As a Sociology and Anthropology double major, as well as a double minor in Creativity, the Arts, & Social Transformation (CAST) and Social Justice & Social Policy (SJSP) at Brandeis, I am constantly examining the power of people and social networks in my classes. My classmates, professors and I discuss the systems and patterns of society that make up human lived experience, and how different experiences and histories of oppression, connection, and privilege create unequal opportunities for communities around the world.
In these discussions, we often speak about social justice, and how different social movements, both grassroots and political, have reshaped human history and have combated against violence. When engaging in social justice work, and especially in social movements, belief in the movement and passion for equality drive people to seek action. Oftentimes, it is also one’s social network and connections with people who are already involved in a movement that propels them to fight for social change.
In the Brandeis class “Protest, Politics, and Change: Social Movements,” which I took during the spring of my junior year, we read from a book that discussed this very topic. Our relationships with our personal networks truly shape how we act and behave, and it is often a person that initially guides us towards social change, rather than an overwhelming belief and passion for a movement.
This is a challenging thing to recognize since we want to believe that our agency and lived experience propels us to seek social justice, which is true, but the networks around us have a strong influence on our decisions as well. This may come in the form of a friend taking you to your first protest, going with a group of your friends to join a Waltham Group at Brandeis, or in my case, seeing my cousin work at the sexual violence prevention center at Brandeis—the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center or PARC—and wanting to join that team of people. It was that team of people that got me through the door at PARC, but it is my developed passion for sexual violence prevention that has kept me in the room, working towards anti-violence practices on college campuses.
You may be wondering: what do social networks and social justice have to do with being a recruitment intern at Avodah?
In my short time working at Avodah and seeing the recruitment process, one aspect of the process that really sticks out to me is the need for relationship building, networking, and the utilization of current networks. Avodah’s recruitment strategy utilizes the technique of “word-of-mouth” advertising. The majority of people who participate in the Service Corps program, as well as people who are connected to Avodah, have heard about Avodah from someone they know, or have known someone who did the Service Corps program. Yes, I also message people on LinkedIn and Handshake and send out emails to connectors around the Jewish community, but the recruitment team asks staff to really dive into their own personal networks and refer people to our program.
Why is this technique so much more effective than other forms of recruitment? Well, it is exactly about what I shared earlier: social networks and relationships with the people around us guide our decisions and passion for social movements. People may not be as inclined to join the Service Corps if they do not know about someone else’s experience participating in the program. People may be way more excited to join Avodah if they know someone they trust and admire who has raved about the experience of working with an Avodah placement and living communally with members their age. Sometimes we just need someone to get us in the door, and recruitment at Avodah recognizes that.
Social justice work can be exhausting and time-consuming, but also extremely rewarding. And when you have a community and support around you, the work feels much less daunting and more enjoyable with the right social network. Avodah offers young people the opportunity to expand their networks with like-minded people, encourage the continuation of social justice work, and influence more and more social justice leaders.