Peanut Chews present: Social Justice Cash Back

In IDP 316 - Portfolio by Cherry Huang


1. Empathy

To develop empathy, our team conducted a series of interviews with different potential users. We began by asking informally within our friends groups and our classmates for ideas connected to how space on this campus could hold sites of resistance. This helped us begin to narrow down some our far flung ideas. We originally observed the Resource Center for Sexuality and Gender with the intention of focusing on the congregation of student power in the space. We then proceeded to explore the archives, a place which controls institutional memory, to learn about different generations of student activism and resistance on campus.

After feeling out some original ideas and observing physical spaces of power, change, and resistance, we decided to combine our own differing experiences as students at Smith with the experiences of other students to generate a more cohesive idea of how student activists could gain more credible power. This brought us to the People’s Resource Center. There are four student activists on campus who have been working to create the ‘People’s Resource Center’ in the basement of the CC in the TV lounge.

The vision is to create a student-run resource hub for student activists to come together to collaborate and build community across different social justice issues and student organizations on campus. Interviewing Sasha Gail-Schneider and Alexis Hott, some of the students spearheading this activist space, told a story of students who needed space to autonomously organize and collaborate as students, as well as some form of compensation for their activism. We reached out to a few more individuals including Sophie Strauss-Jenkins and to gain a wider perspective of what kinds of physical prototypes would be useful for student activists were to resist institutional power and create change.




2. Define

The define process only took one class session’s team time. To define, we took a bottom-up approach, starting from listing all the potential users, need, and insight that came up at observations, discussions and interviews, and went on to narrow down and revise. The preliminary list on the whiteboard was broad, but we made sure every type of potential user were all within our reach: concerned students, excluded/marginalized student, student activists, etc. At that stage, we primarily used the reason behind the need as insight.

Once we had all the thoughts and ideas listed, we started pairing up the user, need and insight, and wrote down potential combinations as candidate of a POV statement. The ones we had narrowed down to include:

  1. a marginalized student needs access to their history because of lack of institutional transparency
  2. a justly pissed student needs recognition and acceptance because of historical interpersonal / institutional violence and injustice
  3. a student activist needs reparations because activist labor is exploited and uncompensated by the college
  4. an excluded student needs community because of isolation and lack of interpersonal / institutional support

We then sought feedback and advice from Zaza. The main next step to work on was to keep abstracting the reason behind the need, in order to get the more abstract need. We discussed the idea of reparation further, and our final iteration of the POV statement is:

“An activist whose labor is exploited and uncompensated for needs their college to make good for its history of institutional violence”.

During the process, we kept the user in mind, and constantly came back to asking ourselves whether the POV would best reflect their situation.



3. Ideate

We started with a more thorough review of the POV statement, written on top of a whiteboard, then we had an hour of full-range brainstorming where a great variety of ideas sprung out and was recorded on the board. After the hour, we discussed the possible associations and categories that could be made out of them, how some ideas can be bundled together or bounce against each other, and then we assessed which ones had the most potential of being embodied in a viable prototype.

By the end of the ideate step, we had narrowed down our focus into a few most promising ideas, including:

  • A punch card for activist labors, paired with some time-share system that lets the activists and other members in the Smith community to exchange resources
  • A “race card” for people of color, so that they will no longer be “e(race)d”
  • A timeline of institutional history and memory, together with a disorientation programming in the forms of photo campaign, facebook page, or just infographics
  • Tangible reparations such as cookies for those struggling from institutional violence



4. Prototype

Given the amount of time and resources, we selected two ideas to prototype on:

  1. “Race card”
  2. Time sheet for student activists

We started out by looking around the prototyping card at Capen Annex and identifying potential materials that could help in constructing a physical card. We played around with glue guns, tape guns, cardboards, and legos. After a discussion on what we would like to see on the physical card, we made a simple card that’s modeled after the Smith onecard, and used tape gun and color markers to add on the additional functions. A card swipe station was built from legos to illustrate how the card will be treated and processed. To fully demonstrate how the card will be used, we put together a user manual that was written in satirical tones.

We then realized that the race card was not targeting our user group per se, since student activists could include students with all kinds of backgrounds and demographics, but the race card only targeted people of color. So we picked the punch card idea and made an advanced version based on the online time sheet for on-campus work. The reasoning behind was that student activists are making efforts to improve the campus environment by fostering more equity and justice, thus they should get compensated for their work to make amendment for the institutional injustice and violence. We used color papers to illustrate for different webpages, and designed the website based on our consideration of what is needed by the users: a page for entering the hours, a page for resources, a page for suggestions, and a login page that asked for basic facts such as the organizations affiliated, and reasons for social justice work. On the homepage we also considered implementing a section for live numbers showing accumulated hours of unpaid activist labor.

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5. Test

To test our prototype we brought it to a few different activists on Smith campus in order to receive feedback and further improve our idea. We tested our prototype with Alexis Hott, one of the original interviewees in the empathize phase. We also tested out the prototype on Raven Strauss-Jenkins, an activist on Smith campus. To test, we gave the users our paper version of the website and asked them to click with their hands on the buttons they were interested in testing. After they would ‘click’ on the page they wanted to visit, we would switch the pages around to direct them to the page where each button would lead. We received a lot of helpful feedback:

  • The title ‘Power Hours’ was weird and should be changed – the idea of ‘Social Justice Cash Back’ was suggested;
  • We need some sort of a system of accountability to prove to the school that these hours weren’t just made up;
  • A clearer mission statement would be useful;
  • The website currently lacks buttons that direct people back to the homepage ;
  • Adding the question ‘What social justice work do you do?’ To the registration page to gain more context of each student;
  • We also received feedback from the comment section of our youtube video (most likely not our user base) hugely critiquing our entire process and idea and claiming that it was juvenile and made by and for children;

This feedback pushed us to think about how to fully connect our prototype back the user and make sure that they were the complete focus of the project. It also helped us pick up smaller, important details that we had not seen before we tested it. The negative feedback we had helped us either gain confidence around staying strong to our goals and refuting unproductive feedback as a team, while validating the feedback that genuinely pushed our project forward in important ways. The conversations we had with our potential users were what gave us ideas and pushed us to more thoroughly develop every aspect of our prototype in order to make it as effective as possible at resolving the problem expressed in our POV statement.