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Scholarship Provides Focus on Activism

Axel Gonzalez ’16 has been awarded a national summer scholarship in the Union Scholars program, associated with the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. The honor will provide the American Studies major from Miami, Fla., with the opportunity to experience the grassroots labor movement.

“The most meaningful part of the scholarship is the fact that, rather than simply exploring issues of oppression and human rights in the classroom, I’ll be able to challenge those issues firsthand,” says Gonzalez, who works on the Organic Farm at Ursinus. “I often feel like I’m learning so much about injustice and oppression, but am not able to apply that knowledge to working to end oppression. This scholarship will give me a very real opportunity to work as a labor activist and to learn and experience the complexities and difficulties of this kind of work, something you can’t get in the classroom.” 

Gonzalez is hopeful the program will give him a better understanding of what life in activism and organizing is like on a daily basis. “I had some experience with it, but working full-time on an organizing campaign will give me a taste of what that kind of work is like. I hope to have helped organize a successful union campaign. As much as this experience is about me learning, it is also about the practical goal of workers getting more control and power over their lives.” 

Gonzalez was a student in two courses, environmental ethics and a seminar on contemporary philosophical ethics material on lying and self-defense, with Kelly Sorensen, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion. 

“Axel characteristically made the deepest, most reflective, and most interesting comments in both classes,” says Sorensen, one of Gonzalez’s faculty mentors. “This is the sort of student who makes a faculty member breathe an early-in-the-semester sigh of relief, because he reliably raises the intellectual quality of the whole room.”

Making close and lasting connections with individuals concerned with addressing the many problems of the world is also a goal for Gonzalez. “I believe my experience in the program will prove to be very beneficial in my academic life. I will have had first-hand experience with activism and labor organizing which would be incredibly valuable, especially since most of the classes I take have something to do with social movements, activism, injustice and oppression whether in the form of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and classism.”

During the 10-week summer field placement, Gonzalez will participate in a union organizing campaign. He will receive a stipend of up to $4,000 for the summer, training and housing. In addition, the award includes an academic scholarship of up to $6,300 for the 2015-2016 school year.