I usually agree when people suggest that I have the best job on campus.
Emersonians are highly engaged in service across the disciplines and in many capacities. We contribute to community-based projects so unremittingly that it’s easy to overlook how mindfully we are integrating ourselves and our institution into the local urban fabric. You will read our stories and discover what we’re doing and learning in the pages ahead. You will understand that, quantitatively and qualitatively, we are exceeding expectations.
I know we are succeeding not only because we use tools of assessment, but also because thank you phone calls, letters of praise, and notifications of awards seem to pour into the office. I liaise with hundreds of our nonprofit community partners who constantly sing the praises of service learning classes, programs, and clubs. Evaluations from administrators and clients of community centers, shelters, food pantries, civic groups, schools, and immigration and environmental organizations report the same thing: Emersonians work hard and work together; we have energy by the truckload; we are respectful and resourceful; and we come with skills—mad ones. When Emerson College is in the house, people know.
We are in the business—rather, the art of—transformation, both of ourselves and of our communities.
The end of this academic year marks the close of my fourth year at Emerson. I’ve been feeling a lot like a graduating senior these days, reflecting heavily on what I’ve learned about the world and about my place in it from students, colleagues and community partners in my roles here. When I began teaching sociology courses here in 2007, it was hard to believe how much I enjoyed learning alongside my bright, interesting, and talented students. I was excited by my colleagues’ creative work and how passionately they put ideas into action. The next year, when I became a part of the Office of Service Learning and Community Action, I couldn’t fathom my continued good fortune.
But, while building capacities and creating community inspires me every day, directing this office is not easy. In our ten years of service, we’ve operated much like our nonprofit partners, in not-so-inadvertent solidarity: demand for support exceeds capacity, the hours are long, responsibilities numerous, and our success hinges on careful yet efficient communication and the practice of patience in spades.
The work is not glamorous and service is not thought of as sexy. (By most.)
But, we love it. It’s in us. Once we’re exposed to the myriad ways in which we can contribute, we learn not only about the best parts of ourselves, we satisfy the need to be part of something bigger than ourselves—all while we are making a difference.
As I help edit Common Ties, and read about the civic and community engagement of our students, staff, professors, and alumna/i, I’m heartened and awed. I’m also saddened because I know members of our team will move on to new pursuits. Some will graduate, many carrying service into their next adventures. Some have found coveted tenure track positions at other institutions. Yet, as some leave, a new wave of Emersonians arrives to fill the (large) shoes of their predecessors, building on their work, and making their own significant contributions.
I hope this newsletter offers insights into how our office works to help create consciousness and to mobilize others to action and engagement. And I hope these articles will inspire you to ask what this office can do for you.