The Office of Service Learning and Community Action supports community-based creative projects through Service Learning Innovation Grants. Innovation grants are intended to enrich the liberal arts experience for students and to help Emerson share resources with and learn from local communities in the spirit of collaboration. Two professors received grants for course projects this semester.
Dr. Claudia Castañeda’s Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies (IN200) in the Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, is designed to give students the opportunity to explore women’s and gender issues from a feminist perspective. The course is organized around location, moving in concentric circles from students’ home location to Emerson, Boston, Massachusetts, the US, and the world, to examine women’s and gender issues as they arise for students themselves and for people around them. It is a highly interactive and research-intensive course, but also uses the academic and activist literature to provide a context and ways of thinking about the particular trajectories each student traces in relation to her/his own life story. A key component of this design is to link the “personal” to the “political”–a standard feminist trope–while also emphasizing the need to be rethinking constantly what kinds of social, political, cultural, and economic dimensions each category might contain.
The service learning component of the course forms a core part of student learning in terms of the time spent with local nonprofit organizations, combined with student research focused on the specific impact issues addressed by the nonprofits. Each student chooses an organization with whom they work for 15 hours across the semester; those organizations include: The Women’s Lunch Place, Our Bodies Ourselves, Jewish Vocational Services, Mass Equality and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Project. At these sites, students prepare and serve meals, assist with voter education through phonebanking tasks, tutor refugees and work on various social media and archival projects. Through this kind of service, Emerson students gain the opportunity to experience and learn about women’s and gender issues that may be unlike those they have encountered in their own lives; students make personal discoveries that, when shared in class discussions, enrich what would otherwise be a more limited discussion given the relative homogeneity of Emerson’s student population. Students reflect on their service in discussions and in written work.
Another unique element of this course is a panel presentation featuring feminist activists discussing how feminism informs their activism. This semester, panelists included Alejandra St. Guillen, Executive Director, ¿Oíste?, The Massachusetts Latino/a Political Organization; Cynthia Rothschild, Author and International Human and Sexual Rights Consultant; and Gunner Scott, Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. Castañeda moderated the panel, which was free and open to the public.
The Innovation Grant supported honoraria for panelists and their organizations.
In Castañeda’s Power and Privilege (IN123) course, also in the Institute, students explore questions of power and privilege by combining their own experience with broader perspectives and theoretical resources that situate that experience in a broader set of social, political, economic, and cultural conditions. The aim is for students to be able to identify, articulate, and analyze dynamics of privilege and power (and so also oppression) with regard to key categories such as race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and age, using the tools provided in the course. Class discussion focuses on how an understanding of power and privilege can be used to act–to navigate and transform private and public lives, with particular emphasis on how this can be done from positions of privilege.
All students complete ten hours of service with St. Francis House, a nearby day program and residential shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Service there consists of working to prepare and serve meals to guests and helping sort and distribute donated clothing. In discussion and written work, students reflect on their experience with guests and other students and volunteers serving at St. Francis House.
Outside organizations and activists present trainings and workshops for the students. This semester, Every Person Has a Story, a nonprofit organization created by Emerson alumnus Ryan Ansin, presented a lecture on the power of images to give voice to those whose voices are seldom heard; Emerson alumna Jesse Begenyi shared experiences from her local advocacy and activism with Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (BAGLY); and Boston Mobilization/SubUrban Justice provided an anti-oppression training.
The Innovation Grant supported the workshops and trainings for students.
Tamera Marko, Ph.D., also received funding for work she manages across several Emerson classes, including two yearlong multilingual sections of Writing for Research (WR120 and 121) in Writing Literature and Publishing, and the English class she teaches for maintenance workers who are part of the Emerson community.
The collaboration supported by this grant involves two of Tamera Marko’s classes at Emerson: 36 undergraduate first-year students who applied for spots in her two sections of the year-long bilingual research writing course, and eight students who are taking an English class (in its third iteration) for members of the Emerson community working on the maintenance staff, and who are immigrants from Latin America. All of these students work on readings about immigration, translingualism and community-based practice in the Americas. All of these classes are conducted in English and in Spanish. While they are studying at Emerson College under different institutional affiliations, together, all 44 students write, edit, design and launch a translingual journal.
The journal, to be launched at a public event when the courses end in April 2013, features essays, drawings, photographs and videos that students produce regarding their experiences with immigration, bilingualism and ways in which these two issues impact their 21st-century identity. The journal serves as inspiration and focus: a concrete product that deepens and allows students to apply analyses of course readings and pedagogical goals. Also included in the publication are reflections about what both groups of students have learned working together to produce this journal. Lastly, the work highlights—in photograph, written word and video—the behind-the-scenes process of creating the publication.
The idea for this journal emerged first in the maintenance workers’ class upon completion of a session writing about recent U.S. immigration policy, including initiatives like the Dream Act and laws in Arizona and Alabama; all of the maintenance workers have children affected by the Dream Act, and many have family or friends in these states. As a way to test how this collaboration might work between both groups of students, the maintenance workers suggested that Marko invite three undergraduates to sit in on their English class last semester; these undergraduates became so invested in the maintenance class that they attended sessions all semester and completed several class research projects about it, including field research on janitorial English classes at Harvard University. (Four of Marko’s former undergraduate students who are now in their sophomore, junior and senior years have maintained integral roles in this ongoing work.)
The service learning dimension of the collaboration is bi-directional: the undergraduate students help run workshops with the maintenance staff students on writing, editing, and journal design and production, while the maintenance workers teach the undergraduates about their perspectives as immigrants from Latin America and also how they wish to write about these experiences, where they want to circulate their writing, and why. The maintenance workers also critique the undergraduate student writing.
This project helps students integrate theory and community-based practice in several ways. Undergraduates have the opportunity to collaborate with the maintenance workers who clean their dorms, classrooms and toilets—not in terms of social welfare, but in terms of actively collaborating on a publication. The undergraduates come face-to-face with stereotypes and “worker invisibility” and their effects on people they know personally. The collaboration also encourages intergenerational community because the maintenance workers are seven to 50 years older than the 18-year-old undergraduates.
When the maintenance workers wrote and sent an opinion piece to the Berkeley Beacon last year, they were informed by the section editor that the newspaper did not understand what an opinion voiced by a maintenance worker at Emerson “ha[d] to do with Emerson.” The journal, as a group project, seeks to reveal the diverse ways the expression of this opinion has everything to do with Emerson.
This project builds on Emerson’s mission to deepen community and expand diversity efforts at the College. Both the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s newsletter, The Luminary, and the Emerson Staff Newsletter now appear in English and Spanish, thanks to the time and translation skills offered by Marko’s undergraduate students.
The Innovation Grant is supporting the preparation for and a public launch of the journal.