Skip to main content

Change U Facilitators

Lead Facilitator:

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith has been involved in community organizing and social justice work for 30 years. For nearly three decades he lived in a housing collective that practiced simple living, hospitality and was part of the Central American Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s and 90s.

Jeff has done human rights work in Latin American countries that were experiencing war and repression. Jeff has produced several documentaries and written a book about his experiences there. He has been involved in numerous social justice campaigns in West Michigan such as anti-war organizing, anti-racism, pro-feminist men's activism, justice for immigrants and refugees as well as environmental justice work.

Jeff has been doing media and popular education work for nearly 25 years, most of it through the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) which does media monitoring, Indy news, Media Literacy and workshops on how to use media as an organizing tool.

Recently, GRIID produced "A People's History of Grand Rapids Project" which began by documenting the history of the LGBT community and resulted in a film which was released in 2011. For the last ten years, GRIID has been offering popular education classes on topics ranging from "A History of US Social Movements" to "Confronting White Privilege."

Small Group Facilitators:

Liam Bailey

Liam began his career in social justice organizing in high school where he found his passion in LGBT liberation and hit the ground running. After Liam's time at university he came to realize that the liberation of one is dependent on the liberation of all. Liam has broadened his focus to include organizing for the emancipation and affirmation of all oppressed/marginalized peoples as well as for the end of environmental and social degradation under capitalism. With a keen interest in exploring new and sustainable ways of living and acting in community, Liam is dedicated to and has been active in direct-action oriented social justice organizing on both university and community-based platforms. Having participated in both Change U 1.0 and 2.0, Liam is very excited to engage and grow with a new group of inspired and brilliant organizers!

Rachael Blansett

Rachael has been very passionate around systemic social oppression since entering Grand Valley. She is highly involved with the LGBT Resource Center being a student worker, ambassador, and co-facilitator of Loud & Queer. She is also the president of the International Socialist Club on campus and has organized and participated in multiple actions that center on genetically modified organisms, police brutality and racial justice, and women's liberation. She is a graduate of Change U 1.0 and 2.0 and is excited to engage with other individuals in fighting for social equality and justice!

Brett Colley

Brett is an artist and educator in his twelfth year as part of Grand Valley's Art & Design faculty. Since participating in both Change U 1.0 and 2.0, Brett has been meeting with a small cohort of other Change U "graduates" in order to work through and confront an array of justice issues from fracking to marriage inequality. While Brett recognizes the intersectionality of all justice issues, Brett is particularly concerned with the rights of non-human animals and the destructive myth of human privilege. Brett sees the animals rights movement as analogous to the historic struggles of other oppressed groups who have suffered imbalance of power, violent subjugation, exploitation and abuse.

Brett's work as an activist happens primarily through the channels of curating, exhibiting his own art and hosting visits from other creative activists.

For example, in recent months Brett has brought the Beehive Design Collective to the GVSU campus to speak about mountain-top removal, curated an exhibition of awareness-raising art around animal welfare for Calvin College's Wake Up Weekend, and lectured on his own exhibition at Muskegon Community College--drawings that explore the fate of several endangered species.

Karis Granberg-Michaelson

Karis Granberg-Michaelson believes that beauty will save the world: beauty and cross-issue organizing. She is is a graduate of both Change U 1.0 and 2.0 and is excited to continue the movement-making magic. She majored in English with Creative Writing Emphasis at Hope College. She put these skills to use when she co-authored the Hope is Ready petition to remove Hope Colleges Institutional Statement on Homosexuality. She now serves on the board of Holland is Ready working on legislative advocacy and community organizing for LGBTQ rights, safety and inclusion in Holland, MI. She also serves on the board of Room for All, a nonprofit advocating the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons within the Reformed Church in America. Karis loves to write, paint, play music and wonder about possibilities. Her writing has been published in Geez Magazine and Perspectives.

Santiago Gayton

Santiago began his involvement with social justice issues at a young age through his parents involvement. In high school he became engaged in issues around race and privilege, which lead to his undergraduate involvement at Grand Valley State University. As an undergraduate student he became involved through studies and interactions on campus with various student organizations and educational opportunities lead by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Womens Center to learn more and more about systems of privilege. These opportunities have led to his current interactions with privilege and gender. He is currently involved with the Men in Action group at GVSU which seeks to end all forms of gender based violence and too look at how interlocking systems of oppression have created a rigid system of gender expression. Since completion of Change U 2.0, Santiago is now more focused on creating change to end system oppression.

Elle Liquigli

Elle has been involved in organizing around LGBT issues since high school. When she came to Grand Valley, she became very involved in feminism. Through her involvement in LGBT Resource Center programs such as Ambassadors, Pipeline, and Change U 1.0 and 2.0, Elle learned much about organizing for social justice. Elle is passionate about utilizing her voice to effect real change for the benefit of marginalized communities. Elle has continued to work with different groups and community members in Grand Rapids and West Michigan on such causes as LGBT rights, education, environmental justice, anti-racism, and anti-sexism.

Katie Opatik-Duff

Katie became involved in environmental justice and, to a lesser extent, LGBTQ rights in high school, and later became passionate about feminism through her studies at Hope College. After taking a Social Movements course, she became heavily involved with Holland Is Ready, where she had the privilege of being an intern, meeting some rad folks, and working toward LGBTQ Justice in the Holland area. Katie is passionate about learning to identify and working to dismantle intersecting systems of oppression through community-based direct action. She considers her experience with Change U 1.0 and 2.0 to have been highly transformational, and looks forward to having the opportunity to continue to grow and build relationships with a new group of awesome participants.

Camilla Voelker

Camilla began grappling with justice issues in college at Western Michigan University. Her work began in the environmental arena while studying in university, and though that remains important to her, Camilla quickly realized health and well being themes in the issues she came up against and their near impossible attainment in a capitalistic framework. Health and well being can mean many different things for different people, and Change U 1.0 highlighted for her the importance of intersectional analysis in looking at separate justice issues within our society, as they are truly all interrelated. With an emphasis in food justice in her current work, she is really interested in continuing the conversation around the many kinds of injustices and to work with folks toward more organizing efforts around food (well being) justice.