Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Social Justice from Classroom to Community

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the Fall of 2003, the Office of Human Relations Programs (OHRP), the campuswide equity compliance and diversity education arm of the Office of the President at the University of Maryland, College Park, created, developed, and began implementation of the three-year Social Justice from Classroom to Community (SJCC) project through its Student Intercultural Learning Center (SILC). That implementation is ongoing.

This article is the first of three in a nonconsecutive series of articles on the SJCC project. This article will provide a detailed overview of the project, the next will report on the project's findings, and the last will discuss project institutionalization and future directions.

Purposes

The SJCC project was established to provide second and third year undergraduate students with meaningful and practical ways to connect the concepts and theories of social justice education that they learn in their campus-based courses, with the concrete applications of social justice action in "real life" through paid internships in progressive, community-based, private, non-profit organizations (i.e., organizations that address the political, economic, health/human services, and educational needs of members of traditionally underrepresented communities). Toward that end, the SJCC project was designed to:

(1) bridge the theory-practice gap between traditional academia and community activism by building understanding of the knowledge, reflection, and action circle-of praxis-among university faculty who teach multicultural and social justice education-oriented courses, as well as community activists engaged in grassroots level social change work;

(2) bridge the knowledge-action gap by connecting students-knowledgeable about and skilled in multicultural and social justice education, and interested in putting this knowledge and these skills into action-to internships with progressively focused, private, non-profit community-based organizations;

(3) provide students structured opportunities to apply the philosophies of service-learning, civic engagement, and democratic citizenship they learn in classroom contexts to effect social change in the larger society;

(4) afford students who are financially constrained, particularly Students of Color, professional opportunities to practice social action that also enable them to earn a living;

(5) offer private, non-profit organizations-who are also financially constrained and, therefore, often only able to secure largely middle-class and White student interns-seed money for, and support and guidance in, building recruitment practices that are effective in accessing and sustaining diverse pools of student interns and, subsequently, committed future employees; and,

(6) continue the university's, OHRP's, and SILC's traditions of developing programs in response to students' stated concerns, needs, and interests.

Rationale

Higher education researchers have demonstrated the direct and influential relationship between the co-curricular involvement of students (e.g., holding leadership positions, engaging in volunteerism, participating in educational workshops) and attitudinal and behavioral and outcomes on many levels (including increased levels of satisfaction with schooling, and improved learning, social success, and persistence toward graduation, among others) (Astin, 1984,1993; Milem & Berger, 1997; Pascarella&Terenzini, 1991;Tinto, 1993).

Research has also shown that student participation in diversity education seminars and cross-cultural dialogue experiences leads to positive immediate and longterm personal, academic, and professional growth (McTighe Musil, Garcia, Hudgins, Nettles, Sedlacek, & Smith, 1999; Milem & Hakuta, 2000). Building on this research, OHRP conducted longitudinal, mixed methodological assessment of students engaged in the range of curricular and co-curricular experiences organized around community service, service learning, and civic engagement as well as diversity and social justice. …