By Michelle Sterk Barrett, Director of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning
There have been so many exciting events for the Donelan Office in the past week including: a welcome dinner where our new CBL Interns met the current Interns; the Vanicelli lecture by CBL Intern Jake Medina ’16; the second Hidden Worcester Tour for faculty and staff led by Dr. Tony Cashman; a CBL faculty lunch where three CBL Interns (Cindy Nguyen ’15, Jenny Sipiora ’15, and Sarah Paletta ’15) shared their reflections about how community engagement impacted their intellectual and personal growth at Holy Cross; a fishbowl reflecting upon Volunteerism and Social Problems moderated by CBL Intern, Cindy Nguyen ’15 and SPUD Intern, Nick Cormier ’15; the Community Partner Reception sponsored by the College’s Community Engagement Committee; an evening reflection session led by three CBL Interns (Lauren Suprenant ’16, Jenny Sipiora ’15, and Kristen Kelly ’15) in conjunction with Bridget Cass and Isabelle Jenkins; an in-class reflection session led by Isabelle Jenkins and two of our CBL Interns (Shea Kennedy ’17 and Bridget Cullen ’17); and an article entitled “What is the point of service, really?” by Kathleen Hirsch on the Crux website that highlights my dissertation research. Thank you to all who participated in making this a very successful and inspiring week!
While there were numerous remarkable moments within these events, I would like to highlight a few public comments made during the week that I thought were worth repeating in this forum.
Monday’s fishbowl, Volunteerism and Social Problems: Making Things Better or Worse?, included a critical look at community service by the panelists (myself, Emily Breakell ’17, Sr. Michele Jacques from Marie Anne Center, and Nancy O’Coin from Quinsigamond Elementary School). We considered the way in which service may perpetuate systemic injustice, strip dignity from those being “served,” or be burdensome to the organizations that host volunteers in an effort to ensure that we serve with greater intentionality, thoughtfulness, and understanding of community partner perspectives. During the event I was asked what I consider to be “success” in our office’s work with students. I responded, “At a minimum, I hope students will gain a deeper understanding of their course content through integrating theory and concepts with real world experience. Beyond this, I hope that students’ prolonged community engagement experiences (through CBL, SPUD, community work study, immersion trips, etc.) will lead to questions—questions around who society tends to blame for poverty and the related assumptions many hold about those living in poverty; questions around fairness and how systemic inequality perpetuates itself across generations; questions about what responsibility each of us has towards the common good. Ultimately, my hope is that through community engagement experiences and reflection upon those experiences, students will learn to think more critically about societal structures, act more compassionately towards those facing inequity, take greater responsibility for recognizing the role that all of us (often unintentionally) play in perpetuating injustice , and develop a commitment to staying engaged with the ‘gritty reality of the world’ for a lifetime.”
Wednesday’s community partner reception included a presentation from CBL Intern, Rachel Greenberg ’15 expressing gratitude to community partners for the ways in which she has been impacted by community engagement and CBL during her time at Holy Cross. Within her speech Rachel made the following particularly powerful comments, “I’ve learned that academic and personal growth often develop in positive feedback loops. As my academic objectives pushed me into the community, the community’s willingness to not just receive me but to teach me changed my personal perspective on social justice and community engagement. This new perspective then inspired a sense of urgency in my academic pursuits that continues to motivate me in questioning the ways inequality is constructed in society. So, if I can speak for my fellow Community-Based Learning students and Interns…I’d like to say thank you to the community partners who warmly and generously open up their doors for us. Thank you for taking the time to engage with us in such deep and inspiring ways. The impact you have on our lives stretches far beyond the four-year window of our time here at Holy Cross.”
At that same event, we honored Professor Mary Hobgood for her many years of teaching CBL courses and challenging students to think more critically about the ways in which our world marginalizes so many of our fellow human beings. Isabelle Jenkins offered her reflections on how taking Mary’s class impacted her life trajectory in making the following remarks: “Professor Hobgood reminded us, and continues to remind us through her scholarship, that the why is a critical component in addressing the systemic issues that we all tirelessly work to address. We all do this work because we desperately want to see the world as it should be. But Professor Hobgood, and her powerful voice, teaches us that in order to actually see our dream world come to be, we must also get at the root causes of why the world is the way it is right at this very moment. Why the world marginalizes more people than it brings to the center. Why the world shuts out the majority of its citizens. Why the world silences the voices that we most desperately need to hear…Professor Hobgood’s course was probably the hardest course I took here at Holy Cross, even harder than Organic Chemistry. This is because Professor Hobgood wasn’t afraid to make me and my fellow students uncomfortable. She wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries, to name the unnameable, to unveil the elephant in the room and force it to cry out. Professor Hobgood made me want to work harder, to read more, to write more, to use my voice in ways I had never used it before. She encouraged me to take on the world in an entirely new way: not only with my hands and my heart, but also with my head. She lit a fire under me that has yet to go out, that only yearns for oxygen to spread and to grow…I am positive that Professor Hobgood and her work has not only been an incredible gift to me, but to this campus, to the students who go out into the Worcester community week after week ripe with not only fantastic energy to serve, but also armed with that tiny but great question of ‘Why?'”