This past spring I taught Health and Education in Urban Communities, a one-credit service learning course affiliated with the Husky booksSport program at UConn-Storrs. This course focused on racial inequities in health and education, particularly within the State of Connecticut. I approached my teaching based on my training in higher education and student affairs. As the course progressed, I recognized the salience of one particular human development theory to what my students experienced. Schlossberg’s Transition Theory speaks to transformative life experiences and how individuals experience them: “moving in, moving through, and moving out.” This past semester I was especially attuned to the “moving out” component of the theory.
A number of students shared throughout the semester that this was the first time they’d been challenged tor reflect on their own backgrounds as it related to their racial identities and their intersections with health and education, and I wanted to make sure that our last class would (hopefully) propel them to engagement in these issues in their post-UConn lives. Using theories from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, along with individual action planning, my students shared commitments toward change and how they wanted to stay involved in what they had learned.
Three months after this course ended, I am still struck by the opening activity of class that day. Prior to class students listened to David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College Commencement address, and quotes from the speech were posted around the classroom. Students were asked to examine each quote and stand by the quote that most resonated with them. (If you haven’t listen to, or read the address, I would encourage it). As I watched students move around the room and examine the quotes I noticed a large number of students stand by the following quote:
Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence
In their larger discussion, students shared that this course challenged them to think beyond their own experiences. And while I’d love to give all the credit to myself, wise and skilled instructors before me created much of the content of this course and will continue to offer it.
What I am left with though is both a feeling of concern and hope. Concern that ours students are not receiving the essential tools of liberal education like self-reflection and global understanding fully or early enough in their careers. However, I am hopefully that service learning can be a tool that prepares students for the type of reflection and interrogation needed for today’s world. As individual instructors, we must take every advantage to move students through an experience that gives them the skills that will truly last for a lifetime, and allow them to recognize both their full selves, but also how they exist in the world.
Garret is a graduate of the Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s Program in the Neag School of Education. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Civil Society and Community Research.