By Dakota Damschroder
“What does it mean to be a citizen of a community?” is the question around which Professor Elizabeth Baeten’s Citizenship as Civic Engagement service learning course focuses. “It’s a really interesting question, because you have to figure out what a community is and what a membership to that community would be.”
Baeten assigns readings that provide different perspectives to this question, including a “liberal” and “conservative” answer.
“One says that what we believe is formed by the beliefs and social structures of the community to which we belong,” she explained. “The other says that you can’t be a free individual within those communities because they can be pretty confining.”
“I really enjoy that aspect of the class,” said senior Film Production major Chelsea Nowak. “It’s a free, flexible kind of structure. It makes us more able to talk about our feelings, confusions, or misunderstandings.”
The service learning component of the course sends students must volunteer at an organization that works with immigrants who are looking to become citizens.
“Many of these people really have to reject a great deal of their culture,” said Baeten. “The younger generation especially wants to fit in with contemporary American culture, which looks so inviting when their parents want them to wear ‘funny costumes.’”
Nowak, who serves as a teaching aide in adult English as a Second Language classes at the Gilbert Albert Community Center in Dorchester, has already gained much from her experiences.
“I’ve really been able to help, and I’ve developed relationships with the students,” she said. “So much of the class is learning and understanding someone else’s culture and sympathizing with other people as humans. You can’t just read about the culture; you have to talk to others about their culture.”
Nowak said she will likely return next semester, even after the class ends.
“I hope students come to understand that being a citizen isn’t just about voting,” said Baeten. “It means being an active member of a really diverse community and engaging in a discussion of shared values.”