Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 3

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 3

Download our print issue (PDF)
Curricular Transformation
Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility
Recasting Religious Studies at Beloit College
Hybrid Student Identities: A Resource
for Global Learning
Global Education Continuum—
Four Phases
New Global Studies Degree Combines Liberal Arts and Preprofessional Disciplines
Globalizing the Curriculum
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Civic Engagement at Home
and Abroad
Looking Within to See the World
Institutional Leadership
Shared Futures? The Interconnections
of Global and U.S. Diversity
Connecting the Global and the Local: The Experience of Arcadia University
Partnership in Education for a Sustainable Future
Student Experience
Engaging Diversity on the Homogeneous Campus: The Power
of Immersion Experiences
Crossing Borders: Interdisciplinary Centers and Global Learning
Resources for Shared Futures
The Curricular Disconnect

Student Civic Engagement at Home and Abroad

By Barbara Temple-Thurston, professor of English, Pacific Lutheran University

Service learning at PLU

Service learning at PLU

Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, Washington, has been committed to civic engagement and service since its establishment by Norwegian immigrants in the late 1880s. Initially a college of education, PLU has expanded its notion of “educating for lives of service” over the past century while maintaining a steadfast commitment to civic engagement. PLU’s immigrant past has always given it a connection to the world beyond its local borders, a connection that has naturally blossomed into a globally focused curriculum with study-abroad opportunities for students.

The fruits of the immigrant legacy that so naturally highlighted the connections between the local community and global interests are well demonstrated in a current program that deliberately links students’ community engagement abroad with their commitment to service at home. The program abroad is based in the diverse nation of Trinidad and Tobago, while the local program is based in the Tacoma subsidized housing community of Salishan. Upon returning from the Caribbean, students may choose to reside in the ethnically diverse, largely immigrant community of Salishan, living and serving as community members.

While in Trinidad, students live in a multiethnic, working-class community rather than on the university campus. Their curriculum (including courses taken at the University of the West Indies) pivots around a PLU-designed central course—“Caribbean Culture and Society”—co-taught by a leading academic and a strong community cultural leader. This course’s robust experiential component includes instruction in various sociocultural and environmental issues, participation in community events (Canboulay, Phagwa, Hosay, Carnival), and a semester-long service-learning commitment at sites as varied as Parliament, an AIDS orphanage, and the SPCA animal shelter. Living, learning, and working in a richly diverse society—where white students experience minority status and black students enjoy majority status for the first time—transforms students’ racial consciousnesses. It also equips them with the confidence and commitment to engage with ethnically diverse communities upon their return to the U.S.

The Salishan Students-in-Residence Program was established to assist students in the transition from their transformative study-abroad experience back to the U.S. and to help them link with ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the more socially segregated environment of the U.S. Recognizing that the best way to serve a community is to be a member of it, the program houses students in Salishan for a year. Last year, student residents in Salishan received credit for their four-hour-a-week service component, which involved, for example, work as an assistant to the Residents’ Council, or as editor and layout artist for the community newsletter.

At Salishan, students wrestle with the implications of a government-sponsored renovation—Hope VI—whose goal is to replace the low-income housing community with a mixed-income neighborhood, but whose outcome, some fear, may be to tear apart the ethnic networks that have sustained the immigrant communities through the disruptions of their migrations and relocations. Students’ experience of the ongoing negotiations and implementation of the federally funded Hope VI program at Salishan has heightened their respect for the democratic process, particularly when power relations between communities and the state are unequal.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and Global Citizenship project supported faculty and curricular development that has resulted in a strong core of different disciplinary offerings within a number of majors. The grant allowed a group of faculty to study and visit Trinidad and Shalishan and then develop courses with components about these sites. Every course has a service-learning component and is flexible enough to be taught on site in Trinidad or Tacoma. Such courses link the broader curriculum with the off-campus study experience, and the service component enhances a student-centered, critical-learning model. An example of such a course—co-taught by a geosciences professor and the director of PLU’s Center for Public Service—is “Community and Sustainability,” a class that explores the difference between students’ primarily middle-class American perceptions about protecting the environment and the perceptions of Cambodian immigrants struggling with poverty.

Through their service learning, PLU students in Trinidad and in Salishan witness firsthand the ethical and social-justice issues faced by different societies as well as the relationship between private and government entities who try to address these issues. Students who return from Trinidad are well equipped to relate to the multicultural community of Salishan. They have acquired not only cultural competence, but also an ongoing passion to engage more meaningfully with other cultures. The Westminster-style democracy of the multiethnic, postcolonial nation of Trinidad and Tobago offers unique comparisons to U.S. democracy. In addition, students learn to question the source of and reasons for the privilege in their own lives, and grasp that global power relations often determine who has access to justice and equity.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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