What is our "brand" of service learning?
One of the most important ways in which service learning at Roosevelt differs from other universities is our frequent emphasis of creating social change through students' community work. For instance, many service learning placements across the country involve tutoring children who experience adversity, but fewer encourage their students to question and act on why those inequalities exist in the first place. This is where our social justice mission directs our work in a unique way for transformational service learning.
I recently read an example of this broader focus in an issue of the Diversity and Democracy newsletter published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Here's an excerpt below. You'll find other examples from some of the previous posts on this blog.
Perspective-Taking and Community
In my classes, I connect assigned readings directly
to challenges facing our local and global economies.
These challenges affect both students' lives and the
lives of the community members with whom they come in
contact. I use the course readings as media for enhancing
critical dialogue on the possibilities for new models
of democratic engagement and collaboration. To make
the readings concrete, I give my students the opportunity
to work alongside new immigrants in a Pomona day labor
center, day laborers on the street corners of Rancho
Cucamonga, farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley, and
labor and community organizers in diverse coalitions
throughout the region. The readings and our class discussions
become "real" when students meet with these
day laborers and community organizers to work on common
projects that emerge from their dialogue. Just as in
the classroom, students advance to new levels of collaboration
and civic engagement by practicing democratic exchange.
Having identified problems that are relevant to the
workers, students use participatory community-based
research and action to locate solutions. Drawing on
their discussions with workers, students organize various
projects that push for social change. Students and workers
have collaborated to implement English classes, health
workshops, and immigration rights research projects.
Students have also organized petition drives, researched
the constitutionality of checkpoints, marched to protest
immigration raids, and campaigned to ensure continued
funding for the local day labor center. To combat negative
portrayals of new immigrants, students and day laborers
have organized community-wide art and pictorial life
history presentations. Thus the workers and students
join in raising their voices and ensuring that they
are heard. In all these projects, students come to accept
the day laborers as teachers. With the help of the Center
for Community Engagement and funding from alumna Susan
Hanson, the college hosts weekly Encuentros (Encounters)
lunches where day laborers share their life stories
and converse in Spanish with students and faculty. Students
also perform teatro (activist theater) in various
communities during their spring break.
Through the projects and class readings, students become
more equipped to understand contemporary debates over
immigration, free trade, globalization, and the many
myths that circulate about farm laborers, union organizers,
and immigrant workers. By learning to respect each other's
perspectives and by pursuing specific outcomes that
benefit both campus constituents and workers, students
and workers have developed a genuine trust over the
years. In this way, the practice of perspective-taking
becomes a useful tool in understanding the diverse experiences
that intersect in the "border culture" between
academia and the world beyond. Students learn to value
the perspective of the "other": the poor,
the worker, the oppressed, the immigrant, or the person
of another color, class, gender, or sexuality. Similarly,
workers and community organizers grow to respect classrooms
as places where ideas can become deeds that advance
their efforts to be heard.