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Featured Changemaker: SABRINA SIDERIS on Teaching, Chocolate, and Social Justice

Changemaker Project: INVST Community Leadership

Sabrina Sideris is the Director of the INVST Community Leadership program at the University of Colorado. Having an organic chat with Sabrina about how she was sparked into activism was the bright spot in Philanthropiece Program Intern Kelley Anderson’s week.

How did you get involved with your organization?

A mentor and teacher of mine, who also taught for INVST at the time, often talked about this idea of peace and justice. It was an idea that caught my attention and she suggested that I look into INVST.

What about peace and justice spoke to you?

During human rights week on campus I went to go see a film that was playing about an activist working in somewhere in Latin America. I don’t even remember which country she was working but it was in that movie that I really saw what it took to be an activist. At the time I didn’t even really understand what social justice was, but it did spark an interest in non-violent social movements.

What events in your life have shaped your values and how does what you’re doing reflect those values?

A good amount of what has impacted has come from INVST. While I was in Mexico (as part of the second year Summer Learning Experience) one thing that really impacted me was being in a very small community that had a strong military presence. Everywhere we went there would be soldiers with guns walking around; it was very intimidating and scary. And they were so young; there were soldiers that were 14 or 15 years old. Seeing this made me consider my country’s relationship with the military. The School of the Americas trained these soldiers and that is a direct connection to my responsibilities as a US citizen. Our tax dollars fund that. That’s when I started to realize that this was my problem. I was moved to do something about it.

Another aspect of my life that shaped me was coming out and becoming a member of the queer community; identifying as a person in society who doesn’t have full, equal rights to someone who is heterosexual helps me to understand this vision of social equality that we are working towards and also where the system fails in delivering that.

What is the most exciting part of your work and why?

Teaching! Because even though you plan for it, you can’t plan for it. You can come up with a plan in advance and have some ideas about what you want to focus on but you can never predict what direction in-the-moment dialog may take. You have to honor community conversation as it happens. This is the philosophy I teach under. It’s honest, open, messy and real. I like that. Every class is a process of self-discovery and group discovery. It takes balance and risk. I love helping people learn how to think for themselves and I like the unknown aspect of teaching. The students and issues are always different and changing. I like that because I get to grow with them.

What is an especially challenging or frustrating part of your work?

Negotiating the space between public and private life. As part of the program, we define the classroom as a community but I am still in a professional space. I constantly have to check myself – Is that appropriate? Is that too much information? It’s a process of figuring out how to be honest and open, as well as professional. It is recognizing that there is a power imbalance, even when I don’t want there to be one. I have to recognize that I am the teacher and I have to be able to make decisions that don’t compromise my ability to work and that effectively facilitate the learning process. The lines are intentionally blurry and it is hard to find a balance sometimes.

What was a moment in your life that you were particularly proud?

Every May at INVST graduation! I am so proud of all of the INVST students. I love to see it when they figure out that they really do have power – when they realize their capabilities and what happens when they work together and make things change for the better.

What sustains you?

LOVE! Laughter, giggles, chocolate (dark and milk), puppies, crackling leaves in autumn, biking, sunshine, choreographed group dances.

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