Creating Culture Change through Regional Cluster Organizing: A Conversation with the IA SoCal Cluster

On Wednesday, December 2, Imagining America (IA) hosted a Teaching and Learning Circle webinar with IA Southern California (SoCal) Cluster lead organizer, Rissi Zimmermann, and founder, Maria Avila. The webinar focused on sharing an approach to regional organizing in alignment with IA’s mission and values, the benefits of regional organizing to cluster members, and the role of collective leadership in creating institutional/organizational and community culture change.  The full video of the webinar can be found here.

Erica Kohl Arenas, IA Faculty Director, opened the webinar by introducing Zimmerman and Avila. Then after welcoming attendees and providing and agenda for the event, Zimmermann invited attendees to take a moment breathe, check in with themselves, and release any tension or unneeded thoughts.

As attendees introduced themselves in the chat, Avila and Zimmermann shared their personal stories and perspectives as to the history and purpose of the SoCal Cluster, how the cluster has built collective leadership over time, and how this has led to culture change on their campuses.

In the chat, IA staff concurrently shared links to several resources, including:

• The SoCal Cluster section of the IA website, which provides more information about current members and a brief history of the group

• The document, “Building a Regional Cluster for Cultural Change in Higher Education: The Imagining America SoCal Cluster” by Celestina Castillo, past SoCal Cluster Lead Organizer, which provides more detail regarding the history and approach to cluster organizing used by the SoCal Cluster

• The book, Transformative Civic Engagement Through Community Organizing, by Maria Avila, SoCal Cluster founder, which includes the principles and practices underlying regional cluster organizing

Zimmermann then invited several members of the IA SoCal Cluster in attendance to briefly share testimonials of their experiences with the group and how participation has been beneficial.

After the sharing of testimonials, the webinar transitioned to the participatory portion of the event, where attendees paired off into breakout rooms to discuss the following key questions:

• How is your current or future work connected to your personal story? How has your passion and commitment for this work been influenced by your narrative? If so, tell a 1-minute story that illustrates this.

• What are your thoughts about organizing for culture change, and are there any parts of the culture in your institution/organization/community you would like to change?

• Can regional cluster help in your current/future work? If so how?

In bringing the group back together, Zimmermann and Avila invited attendees to share some of the conversations from the breakout rooms. They also addressed several questions posed in the chat, including about how to join the SoCal Cluster (for those located in that region) or to get started with regional cluster organizing, to what extent the presenters have worked with senior leadership on their campus, and what strategies the cluster uses to bring people from disparate but cooperative campuses together to be on the same page in terms of goals and outcomes.

If you are interested in learning more about regional cluster organizing, please reach out to Trina Van Schyndel, IA Membership Director, at, and Rissi Zimmermann, IA SoCal Cluster Lead Organizer, at

This webinar was hosted from the Imagining America Teaching and Learning Circle (TLC) webinar platform. The IA TLC is an online learning community that builds peer support and conversations about the opportunities, joys, and challenges of producing public and activist scholarship, and designing and delivering community-engaged courses and projects.

If you are interested in co-facilitating a future TLC webinar or have a topic you would like us to explore, please email us at