August 23, 2005
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Do college students want to change the world? If they do, do they know how? When they arrive at Amherst College later this month for orientation, all 430 first-year students will have read extensively in How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (2003), by David Bornstein. They then will have a chance to talk with social entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty, who chose the readings. Haggerty has improved the lot of many homeless citizens of New York City since her graduation from Amherst in 1982. Recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, Haggerty is the executive director of Common Ground, an organization that restores hotels and other residences in New York and makes them available to low-income and homeless people. She will speak to first-year students on at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug.29, in Johnson Chapel. (Her talk is not open to the public. The media are invited; call 413/542-8417 for reservations.)
The chance to hear Haggerty speak and ask her questions is part of the common intellectual experience with which Amherst students start their college careers. The first-year students at Amherst share a "common reading," which they received this summer. It's not required reading for any course. Allen Hart, the dean of first-year students, says his "expectation is that virtually everybody will have taken a look at it-hopefully most will have read it fairly thoroughly." Behind the suggestion that all first-year students share a "common reading" is a goal that they'll share a "common intellectual experience."
Haggerty is a champion of supportive housing, which provides carefully selected tenants with job training, medical care and social services where they live. According to a report in The New York Times in 2003, Haggerty " formed Common Ground in 1991 to bring her idea to fruition-and she conceded that, with a 3-year-old son, braces on her teeth and the same clothes she had worn since graduating from Amherst College in 1982, she must have made an unlikely champion for such an ambitious undertaking. But Ms. Haggerty said she felt called to the project; since completing her senior thesis on the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, she had considered her 'education an obligation, not a possession.' "Haggerty has been called "the Mother Theresa of Affordable Housing," according to The Hartford Courant, which also reported that she said "poor or homeless people and families need not only a safe place to live, but also intensive and individualized support services for a substantial period of time. 'There has to be a plan,' she said. 'Communities require an overall strategy for housing.'"
Originally from West Hartford, Conn., Haggerty majored in American studies at Amherst and was the editor of The Amherst Student. After Amherst she studied at Columbia University's Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Historic Preservation. She went to work at Covenant House, a Catholic relief agency in New York, and Brooklyn Catholic Charities. In 1990, learning that a decayed and abandoned hotel in Times Square had failed to sell at auction, Haggerty founded the Common Ground Community, which has grown from a single building to a city-wide organization that manages 1,300 housing units and employs 167 people, many of them residents. In 2001 she received a "genius award" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
In their new student orientation, the first-year students at Amherst will enjoy a full week of activities from Sunday, Aug. 28, through Monday, Sept. 5, which will introduce them, in addition to the intellectual experience, to the social life at the college and in the Amherst community. This fall 39 first-year students will participate in an orientation trip, from Wednesday, Aug. 31 through Saturday, Sept. 3, staying in a community center in the heart of Holyoke, where they will participate in service activities, listen to presentations and take part in interactive workshops that raise awareness about community empowerment, poverty and institutional racism. These trips are the first chance that students have to begin building relationships with non-profit organizations, community organizers and activists and educators in the Pioneer Valley.