"Service and Social Justice: The MU Community Engagement Program (MUCEP)," was first developed in the Honors College in 1990 and became the basis for the standards and practices of the campus-wide service-learning program. I have taught the course each semester for 26 years, and it has been featured in multiple awards, including the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification and the President's Honor Roll for Higher Education and Community Service. In addition, MUCEP is the core course for the Minor in Leadership and Public Service and the Peace Corps Prep Global Service Certification.
Description of Course: "Service and Social Justice: The MU Community Engagement Project" uses a humanistic approach to contextualize social justice issues and challenges. The course engages critical and thoughtful approaches to human rights, cultural difference, structural violence and inequality at the same time as students serve homeless veterans, refugee children, at-risk youth in the Douglass Park area, people with disabilities and isolated, low-income senior citizens. MUCEP has been a writing intensive course for more than a decade, and utilizes works of creative non-fiction to stimulate dialogue about service as well as critical social justice issues. In addition, we closely analyze the use of tone, narrative construct, point of view and literary devices in our books and essays. The course uses non-fiction reading and writing assignments, paired with service, to explore service ethics, cross-cultural approaches to a service philosophy and transformative justice. Reading List: Books: Jonathan Kozol, Ordinary Resurrections; Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains; Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy; Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Essays: Martin Luther King, Jr, "Letter from Birmingham Jail"; Martin Luther King, Jr, "On Being a Good Neighbor;" The Haudenosaunee Naton, "A Basic Call to Consciousness" (an interpretation of European/Western culture by indigenous peoples and a call for spiritual awareness and action;) Jacob Neusner, "Righteousness Not Charity" (a commentary on Torah).
Goals of an Honors Course:
In service-learning courses, it is our hope that the dialogue, reading and writing that occurs in the classroom will help to make students more thoughtful, responsive and impactful servers. Conversely, service experiences come back into the classroom and transform knowledge and perspectives. Since students engage the community in different ways--working at a number of different non-profits and with diverse populations--it is essential that they become colleagues for each other and own their own learning. They must engage their experiences through critical reflection and thoughtful dialogue. They become collaborators and colleagues.
Each written assignment attempts to encourage thoughtful, critical assessment and the exploration of multiple perspectives.
*The Honors Project for the course is two fold--student serve an additional 10 hours/semester (45 instead of 35 hours). Honors students are asked to work with their supervisor or the executive director of the non-profit to create a special project or resource for the organization with these additional hours. Honors students write a project proposal at the beginning of the semester, report on their progress in oral presentations and then summarize their contribution at the end of the semester.
*The Organization and Service Profile asks students to research the organization where they will serve, as well as the populations they will encounter through their service. This research becomes foundational knowledge for their future service. In addition, they are asked to explore their role in the organization and set learning goals for themselves.
*The Community Development Papers engage students in researching the populations they are serving and the community challenges they are experiencing. Students are then asked to propose creative solutions to social problems.
*The journals engage students in summarizing what they are accomplishing in the community as well as ask them to think critically about what they are gaining personally and professionally. In addition, they are asked to think synthetically, tying their service to class readings and dialogues. Finally, journals ask students to set learning and impact goals for their service.
*In-class writings are short essays that respond to central thematic questions from our books and essays, and challenge students to connect social justice themes to their service activities.
*The final self-assessment paper provides the opportunity for students to reflect on their accomplishments and goals during the semester, the impacts they have had during their service, and the skills they have developed and discovered. The paper asks students to look at their service from multiple learning perspectives--personal and professional growth; understanding of diversity, citizenship and society and public service leadership.
*Students present their work, both honors projects as well as community development concepts, in group presentations and dialogues throughout the semester. In addition, they are encouraged to present their research to their supervisors and colleagues at their placement sites. The Honors Project directly applies their research and thinking in a community setting.
Each of the assignments, and the on-going dialogue in the classroom setting and dialogue groups, engage the four goals for an honors course. Students are consistently encouraged to engage in critical and synthetic thinking, reflecting on their own learning and engaging in systematic problem solving. The course emphasizes effective writing and oral communication, as well as encourages students to engage in impactful research that applies to real community challenges. Finally, MUCEP asks students to explore the many ways in which their skills and passions may empower the lives of others; it encourages their creativity.
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