Quest editor, Clarissa Lam, virtually sat down with Students for Education, Equity, and Direct Service (SEEDS) Program Director, Madeline Harmon, to discuss her past, present and future, as she settles into her new role at Reed from the safety of her living room floor.
Can you describe your background, who you are, and how you got into this line of work?
That’s a big question. It was pretty unintentional, but I feel like it’s a good merging of a lot of the things that I have going on… I actually started out doing marketing, and was thinking that I was going to work in an ad agency. And I did that, and I was like, ‘This is so inauthentic, and this isn’t me.’ And I was kind of struggling with some depression and got into yoga and was like, ‘Wow, this is so revolutionary and transforming.’ And I was like, ‘How can I do this as a job forever full time?’ and as I was trying to figure that out, [I] ended up teaching yoga in a lot of different places. So I started out working with a high school in Berkeley, California called Berkeley High, and I was teaching [in] their dance department within the Arts and Humanities Academy. And I just loved getting to share this practice with creative minds and movers, and [I] realized how much it meant to me to support youth in accessing freedom in their bodies. And so I did that for a long time. I got offered a position to work within a study that Stanford University was doing on yoga and meditation and how it impacts kids who were struggling, like low-SES [socioeconomic status] students who are struggling with lots of trauma. And I did that for three years and completely fell in love and was just enamored with the work and just could see such growth and impact in my students, and really connecting with them was like a magical experience. And when that opportunity ended, I was trying to find a way to just keep that work alive… My approach in life is just to throw a lot of wet noodles on the board and to see what sticks, so I applied to grad school at a couple places; I applied to a couple jobs; and I reached out to an organization here [in Portland] called Peace in Schools. And I ended up getting offered a job with them and simultaneously getting into grad school at Portland State [University (PSU)] for my master’s in social work, so I’ve been doing both simultaneously. And then towards the end of my MSW [Master of Social Work]—actually right in the middle—I really wanted to get more involved in PSU, and I applied for a graduate assistantship with the Student Community Engagement Center. And really it was the atmosphere and the people that ended up keeping me interested in the work, and there was a lot of room for creativity and a lot of room to bring in all the stuff in my background in terms of yoga and movement and cymatics. And there was room to work with students directly, and have an impact on the community, and get involved with all of the cool organizations that exist in Portland. So yeah, it kind of developed out of that, and it developed out of a great relationship with my former supervisor. And yeah, that’s how I ended up here.
Why did you choose to come to Reed?
I think that what drew me to Reed is definitely the community that surrounds it. It seems like it’s a small and intentional community, and I think that, as someone who is interested in doing a lot of culture based work, I found it to be the next place that piqued my interest. So yeah, I think that Reed students are very smart and very engaged and very thoughtful and intuitive, and it seems like a place where the students have a lot of voice and a lot of impact. And because the university itself is smaller in size in comparison to like PSU or University of Oregon, the students have the ability to impact a lot of change within their environment, which was interesting to me because, as someone who studies social work, how we impact change is a huge part of what my interest and my passion is.
What does your work with SEEDS look like? What does your day to day or a general week look like?
Right now, it’s really just trying to get my footing and the foundation in SEEDS… August was my first month; September is my second month of being here, so I’m really just trying to get a feel for what SEEDS meant to the students who were part of it last year and in the years prior. So a lot of my day to day is just communicating with student workers, having meetings about the [Reed Community] Pantry, and trying to figure out how to best support the Pantry. Some of it is planning; I just got off of a planning meeting with some colleagues at PSU about what potential collaborations we could have. So it’s dynamic; it’s never boring; it’s always something new. But mostly [I’m] trying to get a feel for Reed from a very remote position, which is like in the middle of my living room. So it’s dynamic and changing, and it’ll unfold as the year goes on.
What goals or changes do you have for SEEDS in the future?
Goals and changes are a little bit of a tricky topic because I want to make sure that I don’t come in with a mindset like I’m gonna change everything based on my agenda without knowing the community here and knowing how to preserve the value of SEEDS for its students. But I’ll just say that some of my interests are really bringing in more of a somatic and land-based perspective to the work that we do. I think that community engagement can be a lot of different things and look a lot of different ways, and I really admire and appreciate the activism culture of Reed. And I’m interested in figuring out how to bring in more somatic and decolonized land-based practices, so that the students and community around SEEDS can feel cared for and supported as they’re continuing to do this really tough and relevant work in the world that we’re living in. So that’s a little bit of it. I’m always open too to see what the students who are working there now and what the students who interact with SEEDS are wanting as well.
Recently Reed had a lot of women employees of color leave the school. What is your reaction to that, and what is your opinion about the current work environment at Reed?
This is a really great question. I had heard about some of what had happened before I came into this position, and I’m really fortunate enough to have connected with Tara [Sonali Miller], who was in this position before. And, I think as a black woman, coming into a new position after someone who was very beloved had left, I think my interest is really just to make sure that the students feel supported and feel like what’s being offered through SEEDS is useful to them and is relevant to the Reed community. I think that in any organization, there are bound to be places where support isn’t allocated, and for right now, I feel very supported in my position and my role. And, there are always going to be places where other people can fill in those gaps, whether that’s students supporting our programs or collaboration through other departments. And I think it’s kind of just like a ‘time will tell’ kind of thing. I know that Ashley [Stull Meyers] and I have a commitment to working together and really solidifying the SEEDS and MRC [Multicultural Resource Center] front that Tara and Ruby [Joy White] worked really well to uphold previously.
Are there any programs or projects that you and SEEDS are starting that you want the Quest to highlight?
I think highlighting the Pantry and the need for volunteers of the Pantry and support is always going to be a huge thing. I think a lot of the work of Community Engagement right now is engaging people around basic needs and getting them excited about mutual aid within the community… And I would just ask people to kind of keep an eye out. Some of the programs that we’re offering, we’re fortunate enough to have them last through some of the COVID changes, but some programs are going to fall away just because we can’t partner with the organizations. But keep an eye out for what’s to come because we have a lot of irons in the fire.
What else should I know about?
I don’t know. Just that I’m happy to be here. Also, I don’t get to be on campus much or engage with students much, so I’m really open to the opportunity to connect in small ways. One thing I was kind of tossing around as an idea is—have you heard of the Instagram account? Nap Ministry before?
Sorry, I don’t think so.
Well, their whole platform is around radical rest and just kind of combating the ideas of capitalism that asks us to continually produce and continually work in order to affirm our value in society and in the world. So that’s kind of a piece that runs close to home. And coming from a background of being a yoga teacher, I kind of rejected what most people my age were doing, which was getting marketing and advertising jobs. I was like, ‘I’m gonna go over here to this ashram and like, practice yoga and roll around on the mats and rest and do all these things to take care of my well being’. And it wasn’t until, like, 10 years after that, that the effects of that came to be important. So one of the things that I’d love to offer, if Reed students were interested and open to it, is an ongoing, weekly yoga nidra drop in. And yoga nidra is a type of guided meditation that works to activate delta waves in the brain, so it kind of puts you in the state where you’re not fully awake and not asleep. You’re kind of in this middle zone, and it’s deeply restorative for your brain and for your body… If the students are open to it, I would love to see a culture start to build at Reed of rest and well being and care if one doesn’t already exist.