Experiencing Democracy and Diversity: Gathering Oral Histories

Experiencing Democracy and Diversity: Gathering Oral Histories

Sharon Schwarze (Cabrini University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2900-2.ch004
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The course “Democracy and Diversity” used oral history gathering as a service-learning project. The obvious goal of the oral history project was to preserve valuable stories from the residents of Mt. Pleasant, a small community on Philadelphia's Main Line, mostly African American. The second goal was to ease the problems caused by student renters in the neighborhood. The students primarily used the neighborhood for partying off campus and showed little respect for the longtime residents. The process of creating the oral histories created a bridge between town and gown and raised the consciousness of the students. The course used a variety of materials and practices to prepare students. One of the residents of Mt. Pleasant, Barbara Byrd, co-facilitated the course and provided a strong link and a welcoming role model for the class.
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Cabrini University has had a long history of service-learning. In 1989 Cabrini (then Cabrini College) made service-learning a requirement for its Seminar 300 program and for graduation. This requirement was continued when the Seminar 300 program morphed into the Engagements in the Common Good (ECG) curriculum, and the program was extended to cover the first three years of the students’ Cabrini experience (i.e. ECG 100, ECG 200, ECG 300). Any department can offer an ECG course, and the expectation is that the courses will be somewhat interdisciplinary as well as hands-on or experiential in nature. These ECG courses are part of the larger university curriculum that is known as the Social Justice curriculum.

“Democracy and Diversity” is an ECG 200 course designed for second-year students who have had ECG 100 and have been exposed to the idea of community and the concepts of human dignity and civic literacy. ECG 200 expands on this base and adds the requirements that students “contribute to a community partnership and analyze dispositions towards concepts like inequality, violence, discrimination, poverty, social justice and environmental degradation.” It further states, “students will increase their civic literacy by gaining an operational understanding of the challenges faced by community organizations” (Cabrini University Catalog, 2016). In ECG 300 students are expected to use the academic skills they have acquired to engage with their community partners in research and advocacy that benefit the partner organizations and the community at large.

The ECG 200 Democracy and Diversity course at first focused on the needs of the Latinx community in nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania. However, the focus shifted when a student renter problem became evident. Although students from other local colleges were also renting in the community, Cabrini was the closest institution, and Cabrini students were clearly part of the problem. The thought was, if students were the problem, then students, in collaboration with the community, would have to be part of the solution.

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