Luisa Heredia and Kipling McClement ’19

Finding Inspiration in Grassroots Innovation

Kipling McClement ’19 came to Sarah Lawrence College with a desire to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. After taking a year between high school and college to explore his interests—a year that found him interning at nonprofits, backpacking, and apprenticing at farms and wineries—the “hands-on” aspects of the Sarah Lawrence approach held a particular appeal.

Luisa Heredia, the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence and an expert on Latino and immigration politics, was impressed by Kip’s natural proclivity for immersive service learning, combined with his deep commitment to social justice… and a fruitful collaboration was born.

Food For Thought

Kip’s interest in food systems in the US would become the impetus for his First-Year Studies conference project. “I wanted to take a closer look at the inadequacy of policies surrounding our food system, and that grew into an exploration of the subversive ways in which people navigate the food system—the alternatives they create for themselves.”

An internship with Groundwork Hudson Valley, where Kip focused on extending the reach of a summer farmers’ market that provided low-income, under-served communities with affordable local options, ended up providing him with some unexpected inspiration.

In the midst of designing posters for Groundwork, Kip discovered posters created by the Black Panther movement in the late 1960s. The posters led him to a documentary that revealed an aspect of the Panthers’ community work that would ultimately bring shape to Kip’s conference project. As Kip recalls, “A lot of people were talking about things the Black Panthers did—things one wouldn’t necessarily associate with the party.”

In 1968, in Oakland, the Panthers launched a free breakfast program to address the needs of African-American schoolchildren who had been previously left behind by government efforts. By 1969, the program had expanded to feed a full, hot breakfast to 20,000 children in 19 cities across the country and 23 local affiliates.

Kip explains, “Programs like the ones the Panthers developed in the ‘60s were created to subvert government-created systems that weren’t designed to meet the needs of their community. It was interesting to follow the trajectory from these historical efforts to places like Groundwork today, where the community is still addressing its own needs, but in a very different way.” Luisa was gratified to see Kip’s thesis shift in response to his new knowledge and perspective. “I initially encouraged Kip to look at visual imagery produced by the Black Panthers, but through that research, he began drawing a line from the issues food policy had created—an ongoing struggle with the lack of food in lower-income communities—through to the different kinds of actions communities have taken, and interventions they’ve made, to meet their own needs.”

Kip found Luisa to be an invaluable source of support as he worked through his ideas: “I brought in a lot of concepts that weren’t necessarily ironed out, and we bounced them back and forth. I was able to go in all these different directions, and she helped me see that, even if something seemed like a ‘dead end’, I could still flip it to see a different perspective.”

Curiosity and Discovery

With his first year behind him, Kip has grown to value the emphasis Sarah Lawrence places on intellectual curiosity, and the encouragement each student receives to live out that curiosity in their own unique way. “I am a very ‘hands-on’ learner, so I love that at Sarah Lawrence I can bounce ideas off professors and other students in seminars, and then immerse myself in communities to understand theories applied in a very real, lived way.”

For Luisa, her role as the Joanne Woodward chair epitomizes the Sarah Lawrence approach. “My position was created out of our commitment to help students become more engaged in the world. It’s not just about helping them become critical thinkers or providing a specific kind of substantive knowledge base. It’s about helping them figure out how they will make their mark on the world.”