Community Activism and Impacting Communities Through High Impact Educational Practice

Community Activism and Impacting Communities Through High Impact Educational Practice

Nicola Davis Bivens, Deborah Brown Quick, DeMond S. Miller, Anita D. Bledsoe-Gardner, Yolanda Meade Byrd
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3814-5.ch005
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Almost since their inception, faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities have prepared and promoted their students to be actively engaged as advocates and activists within their communities. For nearly 40 years, through experiential and constructivist learning, primarily in the form of service learning, community-based participatory research, and internships, the Criminology program at Johnson C. Smith University has utilized the various pedagogy to address public safety, health, and other social problems to promote equity. Each of these strategies are deemed effective as high impact practices by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. This chapter is an examination of the experiences of JCSU faculty and their students in affecting change while promoting advocacy and civic responsibility. These strategies have also served as effective pedagogy, a method of student and program assessment, and allow the authors to provide good will beyond their gates.
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Almost since their inception, Historically Black and Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) sought to impact their communities in which they served. The African Institute, founded by the association of friends of the Quaker faith in 1837 became the foundation of Cheyney University, with the intent to educate and improve the social and living conditions of the youth and children (Richard Humphreys Foundation Records, 2020). In most instances, the educational advancement and improvement of the social and living conditions occurred via offering rich, meaningful, experiential learning opportunities for students. While the main purpose of HBCUs has been to educate, there are universities and colleges that are designated as urban institutions whose special purpose is to meet the specific needs of the communities in which they are located (Bessant & Annis, 2004). Given HBCUs’ historical mission to train and educate persons for careers and life during Reconstruction, most of that experiential learning came in the form of classes in farming, home economics, brick masonry, etc. (aligning with the views of Booker T. Washington about the purpose of education). Classes offered in these areas, afforded students the hands-on experience necessary upon exiting the university. Yet other schools adopted the W.E.B. DuBois perspective of education. For example, Shaw University became the first university to offer a four-year medical school in 1882 (Shaw University, 2022). Additionally, the medical school at Shaw operated a hospital that also included a nursing school, offering nursing students the opportunity to learn and serve their community by working with patients. In terms of impacting communities, the medical school graduated nearly 400 physicians by the time it closed nearly 40 years later (M’Kee, 1901; Shaw University, 2022) thus increasing the numbers of college educated physicians. The hospital served Blacks, providing them access to sterile, medical care when there were few other options.

As HBCUs continued to evolve from their earliest beginnings in offering a diversity of academic programs beyond the liberal arts, administrators were faced with the challenge of providing a formal education and attain accreditation from regional accrediting agencies. Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), largely the focus of this chapter, is no exception. In the last 30 to 40 years, JCSU has created and implemented experiential and constructivist learning opportunities for its students. In keeping with its mission at the time, Criminology faculty ensured that they were providing students an exceptional education as well as instilling in them the importance of community involvement (JCSU, 2014). Just as the 1871 murder of Institute of Colored Youth [ICY] (the predecessor of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) Professor Octavius Catto at the hands of a deputy sheriff, and subsequent acquittal of the officer spurned ICY students in embracing their political voices to speak out against injustice (Favors, 2019), JCSU Criminology students, found themselves torn with what was unfolding throughout the country and their chosen career paths (for many of them policing) in response to the number of police shootings of unarmed Blacks, and when applicable, the acquittals of the officers. In 2015, as a result of the killing of a Charlotte Black man at the hands of local police, a number of Criminology majors worked with the local police department to close a number of streets and led a university wide student protest march in response to the incident. Criminology faculty collaborated with members of the neighboring community, to help reverse destabilizing trends caused by quality-of-life challenges, such as crime, poverty, and a lack of community resources. Several faculty across multiple disciplines, adopted a similar approach to affording students rich, meaningful learning experiences, collaborated by creating The Urban Research Group. The Urban Research Group served multiple purposes. Students were exposed to opportunities to enhance their research skills and better position them for admission and success in graduate school and future employment opportunities. The Urban Research Group provided community-based and nonprofit organizations access to student-assisted research support (Carter, et al., 2002; Davis Bivens, et al., 2014). The objectives of this chapter are to provide an historical and contemporary view of the initiatives of the Criminology faculty in promoting student activism and advocacy within their students through experiential and constructivist learning. In addition, the authors provide some of the results of their qualitative assessment of these initiatives, including student and faculty evaluation of the learning experience. Finally, the authors connect these initiatives to the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ High Impact practices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Constructivist Learning: When students build upon existing knowledge to learn new information, this is known as constructivist learning.

Experiential Learning: Experiential learning is a form of pedagogy which students learn by doing. Students are engaged in activities, related to a course curriculum or set of skills faculty want reinforced.

Internships: Internships are a form of both experiential and constructivist learning where students serve in an organization, ideally in their chosen career paths, where they begin to gain professional experience. It is an opportunity for them to bridge theory and practice.

American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) High Impact Educational Practices: Ten practices identified by the AACU which are deemed effective in working with students of diverse backgrounds. They serve as effective pedagogy as well as a means to afford students meaningful experiential learning opportunities.

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR): CBPR is a model of community- higher education collaboration that combines various forms of action-oriented research with service-learning to support social action for social justice (Miller, 2009, p. 150). Guided by faculty, students participate in research activities including creating assessment instruments, data collection in the community, and when possible, data analysis.

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