— Kathleen McIntyre
I have long wanted to integrate service-learning into my classroom. My commitment to social justice was shaped by my experience as an undergraduate student at Vassar College. My history and Spanish professors had strong connections to the Poughkeepsie community and found ways to connect scholarly readings with local needs. As an undergraduate, I completed service-learning hours by teaching ESL courses to recent immigrants, translating labor contracts and medical information for Latino agricultural workers in the Hudson Valley, and interning at a domestic violence agency. After graduation, I worked for two years as an advocate for Latina victims of domestic violence with that same agency.
When I first arrived in Clarion in the fall of 2012, I wasn’t sure how I could integrate service learning into my Clarion University classrooms; I specialize in modern Mexican history in a county with a small Latino population. However, after joining the Board of Trustees of PASSAGES, beginning to teach Gender and Sexuality in Latin America, and becoming the Director of Women and Gender Studies, I’ve found several meaningful ways to fuse my passion for teaching with my commitment to community activism.
This semester I’m teaching General Studies 262: Introduction to Service-Learning. My goal in GS 262 is to introduce the students to relevant academic readings, discussions, and activities that pertain to the theme of sexual assault prevention in the United States and globally. Nationally, changes to Title IX legislation and the campus SAVE Act make this course’s theme of sexual assault prevention relevant, as universities across the nation strive to redefine and reconsider how we handle sexual assaults on our campuses. In addition to engaging in a community service project, students also write short reflection papers on themes related to sexual assault legislation, services, and representations of sexual assault issues in popular media. As their final assignment, students will put together a poster or PowerPoint presentation highlighting the intersection of academic course assignments with community engagement.
GS 262-05 students are working closely with PASSAGES to plan and sponsor the “Walk a Mile in her Shoes” 2015 event. This event began last year on our campus, and we are again working with PASSAGES this semester with even more student participation. The “Walk a Mile in her Shoes” event raises awareness of violence against women by having men walk a mile in red high-heeled shoes. Walk a Mile has been done on other university campuses throughout the country with great success. By encouraging GS 262 students to help plan and sponsor the event, I have provided an opportunity for my students to apply the critical thinking skills they have learned in the classroom to an outside activity. The class and I received a 2015 Community Fellows grant to help subsidize t-shirts, banners, and, of course, the special-order, red high-heeled shoes. While not every male student in the class has chosen to do the march on April 8th, all of my GS 262 students have helped in promoting the event.
Students learned early in the semester that PASSAGES is an agency that offers rape crisis intervention, sexual assault prevention education in the community, and confidential counseling for victims of sexual violence. Students were surprised to learn that PASSAGES was founded over thirty years ago in Harvey Hall, and the connection between WGS and PASSAGES remains very strong. I want my students to feel this history when they visit the WGS Center in Harvey Hall and learn that it was two CU roommates who decided in 1980 to form a Rape Crisis Hotline after hearing about too many cases of sexual assault in the county. Seeing the old photographs of what the center used to look like and learning about PASSAGES’ transition into a non-profit that currently serves three counties and thousands of people each year is meaningful for freshmen, who perhaps can now envision themselves as activists.
Earlier in the semester, GS 262 students also worked with Clarion’s Global Movement to End Violence Against Women and Girls (VDAY) chapter to sponsor the February 2015 production of “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and a Prayer” by playwright Eve Ensler. My students helped advertise the shows, set up the stage, served as ushers, and broke down the set. It was incredible to see students who I normally thought of as shy take a leading role in helping with the production. The following week I was also struck by the eloquent journal entries from students who reflected on the different monologues depicting violence against women and girls; they had all read about national sexual assault statistics, but seeing and hearing such scenarios acted out on stage was a profound experience for many of my students.
So, why service-learning? It made (and makes) my own learning come alive and is helping my students see the bigger picture. Service learning builds critical skills (e.g., application, teamwork, communication, responsibility) that serve my students well and are important to their future employers and my department and discipline. Finally, I hope that many of my students begin to see themselves as civic-minded, able to give back to their communities, and capable of being actively engaged in changing those communities for the better. If so, this becomes a win/win for us all.
Kathleen McIntyre is currently an Assistant Professor of Latin American History and Director of Women and Gender Studies at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in indigenous peoples, religion, and gender in Latin America. She is a former American Association of University Women (AAUW) fellow and has been the recipient of several Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grants to study the Mixtec language in Oaxaca, Mexico. She is Vice-President of the PASSAGES Board of Trustees and CU History Club Advisor.