Community Engaged Learning

Examples of Community Engaged Learning Classes

Each semester, Sewanee offers a variety of types of community-engagement classes: from art and biology to local history and philosophy.

Professor O’Connor’s Introduction to Anthropology

Students are required to spend 10 hours "on site" in the community. At the end of the semester, they write a five to seven page paper that applies anthropology to their experience in the community. Some projects are unique [e.g. coaching youth soccer] but most are through local organizations including Folks at Home, the Sewanee Senior Citizens Center, or the Cowan After-School program.

Students use anthropological theories and methods to analyze their community-engagement experiences and thereby gain a better understanding of the goals and methods of anthropology. In this course, the service placement is used, beyond the help it provides community partners, as a means to provide students with ethnographic data, which they then analyze as a way to understand what it would mean to generate and justify anthropological insights about their engagement with community partners and their clients.

Professor Schneider’s Politics of Poverty

This class has an orientation similar to Professor O’Connor’s class but differs in that the students in the class actually organize activities designed to help the clients of a local community group.

For the Politics of Poverty course, the community-engagement component consists of students programming activities and events for, and mentoring a group of, about 30 children from three to 18 years old who participate with their grandparents in the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program of the Franklin County Prevention Coalition. Programming includes 'College Day' at the University for middle-school- and high-school-aged children, attendance (along with grandparents) at a Sewanee Performing Arts Series performance, modules on bullying issues for the younger children, a "Fall Fest" for the younger children and several other activities.

Because almost all of the students at the University of the South have little to no exposure to populations living at or below the poverty line, interacting with the participants of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG) is essential to helping students understand the challenges and hurdles faced by lower-income Americans. These challenges include: access to adequate food with good nutritional value, challenges of learning disabilities in educational settings, childhood trauma, substandard housing, poor educational opportunities and outcomes, unemployment and underemployment, interfacing with the criminal justice system and alternative schools, domestic violence, drug and alcohol dependency and other social problems and issues that disproportionately affect low income Americans. Unfortunately, all of these issues and problems are represented in one or more members of the population of the GRG group.

When students observe in "real life" what they are learning about in texts, they seriously engage the material realizing they are learning about issues, public policy decisions and political conflict that directly affects the lives of people they know. They easily make connections between what they see and hear about from GRG participants on the one hand, and what they have learned about the evolution of social welfare policy in the United States, and current conflicts and debates on the other hand.

Professor Willis’s The Many Faces of Sewanee

This course involves engagement with the community from the beginning. It is manifested in what the students read about earlier peoples, institutions, customs, and events—both in Sewanee and connected with the University, as well as those beyond the gates. It also crops up in the excursions the students take to assess the interactions of human and natural systems; how and why people live as they do in this area, and how that has changed over time. Each student chooses a research topic on some aspect of local life. In that project, they are required to conduct at least one oral interview with a member of the community (and usually, they will conduct several). Finally, the students present what they have learned in their research to the rest of the class, and their final papers go to the University Archives to support future research (or curiosity) about Sewanee.

The community partners who participate in the interviews have been an invaluable resource for the students. Some provide unique details about earlier times, others help the students find additional evidence, and a few have gently helped students understand that some of the questions they want to answer in their research are actually contested topics—where one section of the community might have a very different view from the dominant or University-connected perspective.

Students leave the class knowing more than what happened, when, and why.  They have also developed skills for interpreting the past. And in their interactions with members of the community, they have also formed human connections to the place, its past, and its future prospects.

In this class, student engagement with community members does not directly serve these members.  Instead, student interactions with community members help provide local knowledge and wisdom about the student’s research topic.  Because student research is placed in the University Archives, this work provides a service to the University and those involved in various University history projects.