What are civic engagement, community-based service learning, community- based research?
Civic engagement entails having students participate in fulfilling community needs as identified by our community partners and linking that learning to disciplinary concepts, theories, and desired course-learning outcomes. Course content is built around those experiences in order to achieve intellectual goals and practice skills in research, analysis, leadership, team building, community organizing, and personal development. Community-based service learning is an effective experiential pedagogical tool that has been shown to enhance the learning process for students and teaching for faculty. It is distinct from volunteerism because it incorporates into the complete experience: academic preparation in the theory and concepts underpinning social systems and civic actions, use of disciplinary tools to understand and analyze the work site when useful for the organization and its constituents, literature research and review to place the local work in appropriate contexts, academic evaluation by faculty, and critical reflection by the student and faculty on the social dynamics and ethics surrounding her/his actions.
This approach openly takes into account the need for relationships to be based on mutual respect; it challenges the race, class, gender, privilege matrix that feeds town-gown conflicts, stereotypes, and insularity; and it uses our collective wisdom to tackle, immediately and directly within our community, key issues of our time (e.g. hunger, conflict, environmental degradation, and global economic apartheid). These are major challenges for any society, community, or institution.
Community-based research generally flows from previous field work in the community and personal interests and commitments in conjunction with intellectual questions. Its agenda is rooted in grassroots needs and concerns and its goal is social transformation resulting in greater social justice.
What can a community-based program in civic engagement do for our students?
An institutional "culture of civic responsibility" cultivates critical thinking, ethical reflection, and active citizenship. It also brings students a greater sense of institutional connection as they learn to play the role of representatives of the College to the outside world. Students come to see where their life at the College fits as an active part of that larger world and to recognize that remaining centered on community needs requires them to develop communication, planning, and leadership skills.
Emphasis on combined thought and action helps students to appreciate the complexity and richness of community life and to see education's purpose as a preparation to contribute to a world lived in common with others.