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Systems Thinking

A Guidebook for Student Activists

Independent Study w/ advisor Andrew Twigg 

Fall 2020

Research Question 

How might we create a resource to help student activists make systemic change at Carnegie Mellon University? ​


Through our past project of Voicing Nonbinary Student Issues on campus, our team realized that the process of creating systemic change at CMU is incredibly difficult. So with this study, we decided to tackle this problem. We created a resource to help other student activists navigate the university system and guide them through making their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion related initiative a reality on campus

  • Figma 

  • Adobe Illustrator

  • Miro

  • User Research 

  • Sytems Thinking

  • Interaction Design

  • Visual Design

  • Annalisa Pao 

  • Evelyn DiSalvo

Initial Research

To understand the manner in which change occurs at CMU, we began our process by interviewing teachers, undergrad and grad students, and staff members that have been part of DEI initiatives at the university level. This included both people that have successfully created change to understand what worked in their process, and people that have not been able to create change through their initiative, to understand their pain points. 

We also interviewed people that are part of the university system, both people in student government, and people within upper administration to understand the existing channels to make change on campus. 

Creating Interventions 

After conducting our research, we decided to create an interactive "guidebook", specifically for students. This guidebook translates our understanding of the CMU system and tactics of change into a format that is easily accessible to students. 

We have 4 main sections, an Introduction , Contained Tactics (working within the system), Disruptive Tactics (working outside the system), and Mental health. We acknowledge that this work can be quite personally taxing, so the guidebook is meant to alleviate some of the struggles past student activists have faced. 

The Introduction

The introduction explains how we compiled the resources within this book, and provides definitions and advice on how to begin activism work. 

Contained Tactics

Through our research, we constructed a systems map of Carnegie Mellon University. With this system's map, we gave students guidance on entry points into this system, showing some effective ways to work within it, and potential places to find allies in their work.

Each part of the map expands to provide more details about the body, what each person does, and the benefits and disadvantages of talking to certain people or groups. 

MacBook Pro - 23 (1).png

Disruptive Tactics 

Sometimes working within the system does not yield results, so we included a section dedicating to gently disrupting the system in order to gain more traction. With each type of tactic, we provided a case study that utilized that tactic. 

Mental Health

Finally, with the guidebook, we wanted to acknowledge that the process of trying to make such large systemic change is very overwhelming and can be quite personally taxing. So we reminded students that their own well-being comes first. ​

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