The AUSM Graduate Program

The Autonomous University of Social Movements is a unique organizing/education project dedicated to the theory, practice and context of community organizing and popular education. Grounded in a commitment to developing effective strategies for profound social change, the AUSM (pronounced “awesome”) Master’s Program in Community Organizing is based in a vibrant community center in Albany Park, Chicago. Student praxis involves development of critical theoretical foundations tested against daily participation in social movements at the Centro Autónomo and around Chicago. The program includes:

-Popular education theory and practice
-Political economy, I and II
-Issues in community organizing (identity, leadership, ideology, cross-cultural communication)
-Topical classes, including Housing crisis, Problems in public education, Immigration dynamics and issues, Dilemmas in health care, Democratic crisis in institutional politics, etc.
-Methdology of community organizing
-Thesis seminar

Why study community organizing?

Latino immigrant communities are expanding rapidly in the US, with increased growth expected in the coming decades. Immigrants face a series of challenges that are poorly understood – or not even considered – by the population at large, including language challenges, racism, family disintegration, workplace exploitation, lack of educational opportunities, cultural adjustments, difficulties accessing social and political resources, etc. While some problems – such as language barriers and the criminalization of undocumented people – are particular to immigrants, others are similar to issues confronted by many groups that suffer systematic exploitation. Especially in the context of shrinking governments in the neoliberal era, immigrants are largely left to fend for themselves in an often hostile and foreign culture. In this context, the (re)construction of community is key to building better lives and fomenting significant social change.

While hundreds of community organizations exist in Latino communities, there are only a handful of academic programs (limited to individual courses at the undergrad level) offered in the US specifically around community organizing or popular education, and there are currently no other master programs.

This serious deficiency results in community organizers who are forced to learn haphazardly “on the job.” There is often little time for theoretical reflection or systematic development of organizing or education skills. The master’s programs in Community Organizing offers a space for development of effective and theoretically grounded social actors prepared to confront the challenges of community organizing in the 21st century.

The Albany Park Centro Autonomo

The program is based in the Albany Park Centro Autonomo, a largely Latino community center in an immigrant neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side. The Centro Autónomo is a community center in the literal sense of the concept. In this time of free trade regimes that demolish economies, fomenting extreme anti-immigrant sentiment, this space serves as a place to reconstruct the collectivity that the current economic system is very efficient at destroying. The practice of community-building is rooted in monthly asambleas and weekly meetings with different committees established by community members. Students combine theory with hands-on practice in various community center projects, including:

-An adult bilingual high school founded on popular education practices
-housing organizing that resists foreclosure and eviction while asserting community control over the land
-multi-level ESL and computer classes
-A house-cleaning cooperative organized by immigrant women
-Women’s, construction worker, and youth organizing
-A bi-national solidarity center that works with Mexican social movements, including indigenous movements in Chiapas, housing movements in Mexico City, and campesino and ex-bracero movements in Tlaxcala

Housing and employment
AUSM can often arrange for low cost housing with immigrant families from the Albany Park neighborhood. The cost is generally in the $300 per month range. One bedroom apartments in Albany Park are generally available for $500 to $700 per month and two bedroom apartments range from $600 to $850. Students can often arrange for shared housing with other AUSM students.

To date, AUSM students have been able to arrange for part time jobs during their studies, though given the current economy there is no guarantee. AUSM may have a limited number of work-study hours available as well. Work-study opportunities are generally not available until the second semester of study. For more information, call 773 583 7728 to speak directly with an AUSM staff member.

AUSM staff

Dr. Thomas Hansen – holds a doctorate in Rural Development with a specialty in social movements from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco in Mexico City. Dr. Hansen has 28 years of experience in community organizing and is a co-founder of the Albany Park Autonomous Center, the Autonomous University of Social Movements and the Mexico Solidarity Network.

Dr. Maria Gloria Benavides Guevara – holds a doctorate in Anthropology from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudio Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) in Mexico City. Dra. Benavides has 30 years of experience in community organizing as a direct participant/leader in Mexican social movements.

Prof. Stuart Schussler holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales- Ecuador. His previous work includes human rights observation at a mining conflict in Intag, Ecuador and work with Colombian refugees in Quito.

Prof. Tony Nelson holds a master’s degree in communication theory from Syracuse University. He has worked as a community organizer, teacher, and human rights activist around the issues of immigration, education, prison reform, anti-neoliberalism, and US-sponsored torture.

The Autonomous University of Social Movements also offers scholarship and work-study options, with preference given to committed community organizers and first or second-generation immigrants with demonstrated financial need.

Admissions are only open in September. The application deadline for the program is June 30th. The program is limited to seven students per year, on a first-come basis.