Student Companion to Community-Engaged Learning

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Star Plaxton-Moore, Director of Community-Engaged Learning

I am thrilled to share the outcome of a collaborative project between myself and McCarthy Center Director, Dave Donahue, that has been years in the making! The Student Companion to Community-Engaged Learning: What You Need to Know for Transformative Learning and Real Social Change is a book designed for students to read in the first days or weeks of their community-engaged courses. The book leads students through a discussion of why and how to engage deeply and meaningfully with communities experiencing pervasive marginalization and injustice. Students will learn about the root causes of, and connections between, social justice issues and how individuals, groups, and organizations are mobilizing to address these issues. The book provides guidance about opportunities and responsibilities that come with being a community-engaged student and suggests dispositions and practices meant to maximize learning for the student and benefits for the community.

The idea for this book came from practical experience and an observed lack of scholarship on this topic in the field of service-learning and community engagement. As a community engagement professional, I’ve spent the past 13 years supporting faculty, students, and community partners. Each semester, when the community-engaged courses would come to an end, and I debriefed with these various groups, common themes arose. In general, there was a desire to make sure students were more prepared to enter the community with humility, respect, and open-mindedness.

Faculty and community partners wanted students to shed the savior complex that commonly infuses service activities, and instead embrace their roles as apprentices to the community members leading positive change in their communities. Community partners said it would be helpful for students to do some basic internet research to learn about the organization, neighborhood, and client demographic that they serve. They also wanted students to practice a basic level of professionalism. Faculty wanted students to be primed to function as participant observers, actively connecting their community experiences to course content and integrating new experiences to inform their worldviews. In addition, students would often lament, upon reflection, that they could have made more of their experience if they had some key info at the beginning.  For example, Meghan, a student in an undergraduate community-engaged course, reflected that she wished she would have been encouraged to interact meaningfully and build relationships with the staff and clients at her host organization early on. She described how it took her several weeks to realize she could learn more from conversations with the people at her host site than from exclusively focusing on the service tasks. How much more could Meghan have learned if she went into her first day at her host site with a desire to connect with people and learn their stories in addition to participating in service activities?

The service-learning and community engagement literature is filled with scholars exhorting faculty and practitioners to prepare students for entering and interacting with the community. However, this topic was never addressed with sufficient depth to guide a general set of themes for student orientation. Our hope is that this book addresses a gap in the field and responds to the insights and experiences of our brilliant, dedicated, and critical colleagues and students.

Traveling with the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars to NYC

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Janelle Nunez (’19) is a participant of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars cohort that went to New York this January.  Here she shares her reflections on this transformative trip

 

During the University of San Francisco’s winter intercession, the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) got the incredible opportunity to spend a week in New York. Prior to their travel, this living-learning community spent a semester exploring issues of diversity, inequality, and social justice through the lens of hip-hop. The four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, B-boy/B-girling, and graffiti writing) were examined as well as the fundamental relationship to the network of youth subcultures. From the origins of hip-hop music as it began in the Bronx neighborhoods to the multi-billion dollar business that it is today, the EMDS students analyzed this incredible journey as a means to better understand their conception of “resistance”and “social justice” that has engulfed our nation’s history. Now that you have a better understanding of who EMDS is, let me introduce myself and take you to New York on this recent adventure.

My name is Janelle Nunez and I am currently a sophomore at USF. I am a History major, Chemistry minor, and pre-med. Like many of my fellow cohort members, I have a passion for social change and have a love for hip-hop. What makes the EMDS experience so unique amongst many examples, is that all us of come from various walks of life. Our cohort has members from Southern California, the Bay Area, Chicago, and Latin America, each of us with diverse majors as well. You take all that diversity and put them together and it makes for well rounded perspectives that were applied to our New York excursion. The New York trip was an amazing experience and I know the members from my cohort who were able to take part in this will agree. However, there were three events that my cohort and I were able to participate in that exceeded all of our expectations, and that was the Art as a Weapon conference, the visit to the BOOM!Health center, and the discussion at the Apollo Theater, “Where do we go from here?” Let’s explore these experiences.

Art as a Weapon

On one of of our last days of the trip we attended Art as a Weapon, an all day conference that discussed a variety of topics on the use of art as a form of activism and healing. The conference agenda included a morning keynote address, two workshop sessions and a closing panel. One of the workshops I attended was called “Happened Yesterday, Happening Tomorrow.” This session discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and looked at the historical context of police brutality, and racial profiling. In this small intimate setting, our groups conversed about how artists have responded to injustice with the use of poetry and performance. We were put into small groups and together made a collaborative art piece of poetry that we later shared with the larger group. What struck me most from this experience, was the realization that historically, police brutality against people of color has been an ongoing battle. From the first graphic images of Emmit Till to the case of Trayvon Martin, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.

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(New York City) We are Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars

BOOM Health 

Our visit to BOOM!Health in the south side of the Bronx, introduced us to a full range of prevention. This one stop shop, provides syringe access, health coordination, housing, behavioral health, legal and advocacy services to over 8,000 communities in New York. After having one-on-one conversations with their employees, it was inspiring to see their hard work and dedication even when they left the building. The center actively works to fight the viral HIV and hepatitis illnesses that can severely harm those who are active drug users or at risk for HIV/AIDS. While we were there, my cohort and I were also trained in opioid overdose prevention. It was beautiful to see how the organization prioritized the dignity of its everyday members who receive services and made their facility a comfortable place to call home. BOOM!Health is a family that works for its communities’ unique needs.

Apollo Theater: Where do We go from Here?

Lastly, our time spent at the Apollo Theater during M.L.K. weekend discussing “Where do we go from here?” celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here EMDS students were able to engage in dialogue about inclusion and what that means for our future. The Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and Shaun King, a social justice journalist, were a part of a panel that we got to hear from. It was an empowering afternoon with poetry renditions with a theme was about igniting hope. The speakers reminded me that this country is more than our president. It is about us—the people that create power and movement for change.

Thank you for joining me in this experience of social change.

Interested in becoming an Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar? Applications for next year’s 2017-18 EMDS cohort are due on February 28, 2017. Apply here

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Life is Not Linear – Learning to Fight for Equity, Diversity, and Democracy in San Francisco

Woo MAUA

David Woo
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs candidate ’17

I decided late last summer to apply to the Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program at the University of San Francisco (USF) in a move to change my career path. As an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), I studied both chemistry and sociology. While I was passionate about both fields, upon graduating I ended up working with the Environmental, Health, and Safety department at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in the chemical safety department. While the work I was doing was important, I was not doing the type and scope of work that I truly wanted to do – that is work that addresses issues surrounding social justice. After moving back home to San Francisco after graduating UCSC, there were apparent differences brought about by the technology boom. Increased displacement, skyrocketing housing prices, and a general feeling of unease as trendy boutiques went up in the place of longtime neighborhood serving establishments.

After leaving my job at UCSF I took some time off to reconsider what I wanted out of my career. The serious crisis in San Francisco brought about by rising economic inequality was in full force and my desire to get involved in social justice work ultimately led me to the Urban Affairs program at USF. While I was unsure if I was too late to apply, the staff at the USF McCarthy center took the time to respond to all my questions and helped me get an application in very quickly, well past the official deadline to apply to the program. Having previously been interested in sociology, political activism, and social change movements in college, the interdisciplinary focus of the program seemed like a great fit. Continue reading