Building Community Partnerships for Ethical Global Engagement

By: AAC&U News

November 1, 2017

Each semester, global learning educators set out to change the way their students see the world.

“I tell my students, one of my goals is to disturb you for the rest of your life—in the best sense,” said Eric Wetzel, director of the Global Health Initiative at Wabash College.

Global service-learning experiences, whether they occur internationally or within local communities, can be transformative experiences that strengthen students’ global self-awareness, identity formation, and understanding of diverse cultures. These immersive experiences also strengthen an array of skills that are essential for any liberal education: civic knowledge, critical thinking, written and oral communication, teamwork, ethical reasoning and action, and intercultural competency.

Several resources from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)—Models of Global Learning, a free online publication; “Global Learning: Beyond Study Abroad,” a webinar recording available for free for AAC&U members; and Global Engagement and Social Responsibility, an annual conference—provide additional insight into the benefits of global learning and how to integrate it throughout the curriculum and cocurriculum.

Despite the robust benefits that global service learning offers students, “we see there’s so many ways this work can go poorly,” said Eric Hartman, executive director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford College. It’s important for educators overseeing global service learning “to be really aware of the moral hazards involved, particularly around clinical environments, health-related environments, or environments where there are vulnerable persons, including children.”

Three institutions—the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana; Haverford College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana—have addressed these ethical challenges by developing long-term partnerships with community organizations locally and abroad, ensuring that students are still transformed by their experiences while serving real community needs.

University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns

For more than three decades, the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame has operated locally, nationally, and internationally to expose students to pressing global issues. When finding opportunities for students, the center puts a high priority on developing long-term partnerships with community organizations.

“It’s about finding that perfect match of community need, student interests, and academic area expertise, experience, and skills,” said Rachel Tomas Morgan, associate director of the center. “The scope of students’ work could change each year based on the particular project needs or research needs of the organization.”

One of the center’s marquee programs is the International Summer Service-Learning Program (ISSLP), a year-long fellowship program consisting of two courses that bookend an 8­–10 week field immersion program in the summer. The ISSLP currently has a cohort of sixty-five students, but the center hopes to double that within five years.

The center covers nearly all student costs for the summer field immersion experience, including airfare, housing, and a travel stipend.

“It was a priority for us that this program and all our programs at the Center for Social Concerns be accessible to all students and not be a burden to families who can’t afford it,” Tomas Morgan said.

The predeparture course is a survey course on global issues that helps students understand the root causes and multidimensionality of social issues, as well as strategies for development. The course trains students for their summer destination, including topics like intercultural competence; area studies about geography, populations, and cultures; and risk mitigation. The summer field experience is tied into the fall-semester course, which includes weekly readings, guided journaling, a final project, and a public presentation.

Students return from their international immersion experience “transformed on multiple levels,” Tomas Morgan said. She highlighted the experience of a student named Arwa, an aspiring artist who served in the Aida refugee camp near Jerusalem in the summer of 2017.

“She worked with students through art and performance, providing children in the Aida refugee camp outlets for creativity [and] imagination, and the space to hope when the environment around them is so easily dimmed by violence and conflict,” Tomas Morgan said.

In journals and reports, Arwa wrote about the stark contrast between her relatively privileged life, with a safe place to sleep and the opportunity to study at Notre Dame, and “the life of a Palestinian girl living in this overcrowded refugee camp, with limited access to water and a school that only goes up to the eighth grade,” Tomas Morgan said.

Tomas Morgan describes Arwa’s experience as a “heritage journey,” with the struggles of the Palestinian girl mirroring the plight of her own parents who immigrated under difficult conditions from the Middle East.

“Privilege, fortune, and fairness are common questions our students walk away with,” Tomas Morgan said.  “And they also realize that with such awareness comes a deep responsibility, and they question how they might live out this responsibility in the career choices and life choices that they make.”

The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford College

The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship at Haverford College is a campus-wide center that “supports peace, social justice, and global citizenship through research, education, and action,” said Eric Hartman, the center’s executive director.

In one of several introductory-level courses supported by the center, students research migrant rights and work with organizations in Philadelphia such as Friends of Farmworkers, which advocates for low-wage workers, or Puentes de Salud, a health advocacy organization. During winter break, students visit organizations in Mexico City or at the United States/Mexico border to learn about the ways in which civil society organizations and individuals strengthen global citizenship and support migrant rights.

These courses are one way the center prepares students for later opportunities to apply for eight- to ten-week summer internships that provide students with experience within their field of study while making real contributions to the goals of organizations working for social justice, peace-making, or human rights advocacy.

Haverford College Student Internships Include:

The center currently offers sixty funded internships per year, supporting nearly 20 percent of the campus population over a four-year period.

When it comes to choosing health-related internship programs in particular, Hartman stressed the importance of teaching students—who may be under pressure by the medical school application process to seek experiences they aren’t qualified for—“how to say no, and when to say no, across extremely complicated dynamics of power, privilege, and culture.”

Like Notre Dame’s ISSLP program, these summer experiences are bookended by preparatory programs in the spring and coursework in the fall. Since 2003, Haverford has required interns to take a fall reentry course where they convene with others who completed a similar internship in global health, domestic human rights, international human rights, education, linguistics, or environmental studies.

Based on the scholarship on experiential learning, reentry courses are “essential to support students’ capacities to continue to make sense of individual experience in the context of broader theoretical and empirical understanding,” Hartman said.

One of the most competitive internships is with Voice of Witness, a San Francisco–based organization that advocates for rights realization by collecting narratives of people who have been marginalized by rights abuses in books and other documents.

“Voice of Witness does a fantastic job of meeting our students where they are, recognizing the skills they bring,” Hartman said. “Students have a number of things to share in terms of their writing and editing capacities, and [Voice of Witness] also coaches them . . . to get a real professional contribution.”

One first-year student and one second-year student interned with Voice of Witness in the summer of 2017. While their work was supervised by senior editors, the students made significant contributions to the process of collecting and editing stories. In the reentry course after the internship, students gained a deeper understanding of oral history by discussing with other interns how approaches differ among various kinds of organizations.

Throughout the courses and internship, they “were deeply engaged in an extremely thoughtful NGO’s process around working with extraordinarily marginalized populations, collecting narratives ethically and responsibly, and employing those narratives in the service of activism around rights realization,” Hartman said.

To expand opportunities for students and get faculty more involved in service learning, the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship is supporting a Faculty Seminar on Engaged, Ethical Learning throughout the 2017–18 academic year. Through the seminar, faculty and representatives of community partner organizations share articles and “meet together at partner sites, where we consider the challenges and opportunities growing from engaged learning,” Hartman said. “For me, there’s something really important and powerful about a faculty seminar taking place in a community-based context because that’s really what we’re striving for with students.”

The Global Health Initiative at Wabash College

As the director of the Global Health Initiative at Wabash College, Eric Wetzel works to “build strong sustainable relationships with communities, internationally and locally, and then plug students into those ongoing relationships.”

As part of the initiative, Wetzel teaches a global health course that has a two-week summer immersion experience in Peru bookended by coursework on campus. By design, the course is open to students from any discipline.

“Global health is this crazy, multidisciplinary collection of problems,” Wetzel said. “The goal is not to turn all students into biology majors; it’s to engage students from multiple disciplines to focus on these problems.”

In his course, Wetzel pushes students to engage with Wabash’s mission “to think critically, to act responsibly, to lead effectively, and to live humanely.”

Wetzel has been working in Peru for several years, allowing him to establish “a wide and in-depth network of collaborators and partners,” including institutions, physicians, researchers, clinics, and nongovernmental organizations. Students spend time in three cities—Lima, near the coast; Huánuco in the Andes mountain range; and Tingo Maria in the rainforest.

One of the primary goals of the immersion experience is to “to disabuse the students of the idea that they’re going to go down and mop this place up and ‘solve’ the problem,” Wetzel said. “You can watch them stand on the edge of a slum community with very low-income conditions as far as they can see, and the mundane chatter just dies out as the enormity and complexity of the problems sink in.”

One of the issues that students learned about in Peru related to mental health and post-traumatic stress. Students spoke with residents of Lima who had originally fled from the mountainous regions to escape violence caused by the Shining Path terrorist organization. Back in class after the trip, students discussed this experience in the context of on-campus challenges and were involved in starting an ongoing mental health concerns committee on campus that includes the college counseling office, the dean of students, a student-led public health club, and the leaders of various student organizations.

Students also have global service-learning opportunities in the local community through internships and federal work-study opportunities with local organizations, including the Montgomery County Health Department, the Youth Services Bureau, and Half Way Home, a residential program for women battling substance abuse.

“Not only are the students getting benefits out of [these internships], but Wabash’s programs are acting as an amplifier for the work that these agencies are doing,” Wetzel said. “We’ve been told time and time again by the director of our county health department that there are projects that they’re doing that would not be possible without our students.”

In courses, rather than assigning traditional five-page papers on a narrow topic, Wetzel pushes students to work in groups to get experience collaborating and honing their written and oral communication skills on projects that directly contribute to the community. Students might work together to write articles or editorials for the local newspaper, deliver poster presentations at a county health fair, film social media videos to be posted online, or create bilingual brochures that are disseminated by the health department.

One of the biggest benefits students get from working with these community partners locally and abroad is that they learn to “consider carefully who has the information,” Wetzel said. While colleges and universities train students to believe that professors have all the information, “that’s just not true. The experts are people who work in NGOs, people who work in county public health offices, and . . . people who live in communities. They’re the experts, they live it every day.”

The Importance of a Community of Practice

Tomas Morgan, Hartman, and Wetzel all agree that strong, long-term relationships with community partners are vital to the success of global service-learning programs and the students they serve. However, partnerships between institutions are also important to break down siloes and grapple with difficult theoretical and pedagogical questions.

“Global health and international development are arguably some of the most complex and transdisciplinary cross-cultural fields in the world,” Hartman said. “It is of course going to be challenging to engage thoughtfully in them, particularly in a way that is inclusive of external community members and student learning. So how does one do that well? And where is the knowledge base for it?”

After surveying the landscape of research, Hartman realized that much of the scholarship on ethical global engagement is compartmentalized in fields like international education, social work, medical professions, service learning, civic engagement, public health, and global development.

“It became clear that many of these fields weren’t talking to one another,” Hartman said.

Using the internet to engage colleagues across institutions and disciplines, Hartman teamed up with Richard Kiely, senior fellow with Engaged Cornell at Cornell University, to create Global SL, a network of hundreds of educators and a variety of institutions across the country and around the world.

Following early start-up support from several initiatives dedicated to ethical global learning at Duke UniversityCornell UniversityNorthwestern University, and Washington University in St. Louis, Global SL is now housed within Haverford College and sustained by a growing network of partners. Hartman serves on the steering committees for the network’s online resources hub—which includes peer-reviewed research and resources submitted by institutions—and the annual Global Service Learning Summit. The next summit, which is co-sponsored by AAC&U, will be hosted by the University of Notre Dame from April 15 to 17, 2018.
In addition to breaking down silos and bringing practitioners together, participants at the summit engage in a “quite critical conversation, but it’s a criticality that is tied to the hope that serious criticism can support moving forward for consequential action,” Hartman said. “There’s a moral imperative that institutions have to better understand how to mobilize their resources, scholars, and students in service of public purposes.”
Tomas Morgan, who also sits on the steering committee for the Global Service Learning Summit, said that “good practice and the ethics of global service learning” are major priorities in the Global SL network. “These are complicated and wicked problems, so questions of ethics and getting this work right are very important.”

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