What Is Community-Engaged Learning?
Community engagement is at the core of the CPGC's mission, but how does it work? And more importantly, how can you get involved?
Non doctior, sed meliore doctrina imbutus. Not more learned, but steeped in higher learning. That is the motto of Haverford College. It serves as a guiding principle for the school and for its students, who feel ever more steeped in learning as finals season looms on the horizon. We at the CPGC, as with everything we do, look at this motto through a social justice lens. What does it mean to be steeped in social justice learning?
Ask Professor Lina Martinez Hernández. With her Spanish 101 students, she started Nuestro Podcast, which engaged her students in collaborative work with Spanish speakers in North Philadelphia. “We’re always thinking in our department of community-engagement,” she said in an interview. In the podcast, both Haverford students and young pupils at the organization Mighty Writers “El Futuro” and Julia de Borgos Elementary School collaborated to produce episodes about current events, music, and pop culture. Mighty Writers helps children of Spanish speakers preserve their linguistic heritage by teaching them how to read and write academically in Spanish. Julia de Borgos Elementary teaches students from a wide variety of backgrounds, including a large population of Caribbean students, many of whom migrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The podcast sought to “bring both communities together, [while] trying to avoid conflicts of power hierarchies.”
They accomplished this by having the students teach other. The Haverford students, on the whole more adept at technology, taught the younger students how to produce, record, and edit the podcast while the younger students, experts in Spanish, taught the language to the Haverford students. “When we started the project, we told the kids, ‘You’re gonna be these college students’ Spanish teachers,’” said Professor Hernandez. “And one of the girls took it super seriously. We weren’t even noticing, but she exchanged phone numbers with one of the students at Haverford. She would text her and say in Spanish, ‘Have you done your homework?! This is your Spanish teacher!’”
Community-engaged learning is one of the hallmarks of the CPGC. It involves participating in social justice work that is led by the people affected by the issue. For Professer Hernandez, that issue was bringing communities together. Her project allowed Haverford students to help young Spanish-speaking pupils while also allowing the students to teach the Haverford undergrads. When approaching an issue from the outside, good intentions too often lead to patronizing saviorism, so the CPGC prizes social justice work, internships, and fellowships at organizations designed and led by people affected by the issues they hope to remedy. This could be service work, research, or any other learning experience. Crucially, the CPGC aims to help students utilize their talents and develop them in a workplace environment. That way, growth is both professional and personal.
Professor Martinez’s Nuestro Podcast lasted one semester, but learning can take place over the span of years if the fit is right. Many of the CPGC’s most well-known fellowships arose from community-engaged learning projects. Laɣim Tehi Tuma, now entering its ninth year, emerged from a collaboration between Bi-Co students and rural educators in Dalun, Ghana. The fellowship aims to reconceptualize education by centering “Black diasporic liberation and study,” according to the Bi-Co website for Laɣim Tehi Tuma. With the goal of being “an intervention in colonial pasts and to foster movement towards just and thriving futures,” the fellowship plunges students in an unfamiliar environment while fostering professional and personal growth. It also results in a situation where Bi-Co students not only teach young students but are taught by them in turn. And it all began with a community-engaged learning project.
Each of the projects mentioned here receive funding from other sources as well, but the CPGC has played a role in the support or formation of each partnership. The CPGC is dedicated to aligning with work of this kind and finding support opportunities for students and faculty.
Not all community-engaged learning experiences take place so far from Haverford. Professor Kristin Lindgren’s Critical Disability Studies class received assistance from the CPGC in partnering with the Center for Creative Works (CCW) in Wynnewood, less than two miles away from Haverford’s campus. There, students assisted artists with disabilities in creating their artwork. At the end of the semester, their paintings, sculptures, and multimedia pieces culminated in an exhibition at Haverford titled “Symbiosis: Art, Science, and Community” in which five works of art were sold. With plans to continue the partnership into the future, Lindgren hopes more students will have the opportunity to partake in this kind of community-engaged learning.
For those students looking for long-term engagement in social justice causes, community-engaged learning at the CPGC provides the means to accomplish that goal. Many summer fellowships began as short-term learning projects that grew organically into larger ones. Attending advising sessions with staff members, including student staff members, is a great way to get started. Join CPGC Student Staff and Staff members for a pop-up CPGC internship advising cafe, including tea and fair trade coffee, in Stokes 104:
- Tuesday, November 16, 4:00 - 5:30
- Friday, November 19, 3:00 - 4:30
Students can also schedule advising sessions here. Summer fellowships can be with organizations with whom the CPGC has a pre-existing relationship or they can be totally self-designed. Of course, the CPGC is available to assist any student hoping to do a self-designed fellowship. In either case, summer fellowships provide opportunities for growing professional skills while supporting an organization or network advancing justice, inclusion, or sustainability.