Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Can Intergroup Dialogue Combined with SLCE Answer Today's Call to Action?

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Can Intergroup Dialogue Combined with SLCE Answer Today's Call to Action?

Article excerpt

Dozens of bodies lay stiff and still. Arms and legs overlay one another. Black, Brown, and White undergraduate bodies clogged the arteries of the student center at Hobart and William Smith (HWS) Colleges in Geneva, New York. Flanking them were faculty and staff, standing in solidarity, holding block letter signs reading: "BLACK LIVES MATTER," "HANDS UP DON'T SHOOT," and "I CAN'T BREATHE." It was the end of the Fall 2014 semester, and Black Lives Matter protests pervaded cities and campuses nationwide. This was not the first time our city had witnessed mass protest against police violence. Following the 2011 police shooting death of unarmed Black resident Cory Jackson, Geneva's Hispanic and Black community and White allies rose up in protest to demand accountability by, and greater inclusion in, city government.

Such campus and community protests have guided us to reimagine service-learning as cooperative, rights-based, and dialogue-driven. At the center of our vision for the future of the service-learning and community engagement (SLCE) movement is an inextricable link between dialogue and collaborative action. In our campus-community initiative Tools for Social Change, we use intergroup dialogue (IGD) to help students, faculty, staff, and city residents co-create knowledge and expand their civic capacity. Beyond the particularities of our work, we see a universal role for dialogue in building trust and understanding between stakeholders so they can more effectively serve their communities.

In his 2015 framing piece for the SLCE Future Directions Project, Zlotkowski calls for "enhanced social efficacy" through stakeholder inclusiveness and demonstrable community impact. This thought piece dreams out loud, with Zlotkowski and others' bold calls to develop SLCE programs for collaborative learning and social change. For us, collaborative learning requires creating conditions for stakeholders to engage in active, often difficult, conversations about identity, power, and oppression. It is not until we have named our personal experience with (or complicity in) broad and deep forces of inequality that we can begin to create community anew.

What follows is an overview of our call for linking dialogue-to-action in SLCE. Throughout the piece we reference our initiative, Tools for Social Change, not as a program description but as a love story about enactments of justice and human agency that moved us to share our vision for democratic, transformative SLCE. We offer nothing prescriptive, but instead send a dispatch from the place where memory and imagination meet. Yet this is not a passive call. Any ethical pedagogy must attend to the historical moment it occupies. SLCE practitioners and scholars cannot turn away from the fierce urgency of the call to empower our communities.

In their 2016 thought piece, Whitney and colleagues call for designing asset-based, collaborative programs that engage with the contexts of local places and national realities. Looking at today's national realities we see a rising tide of youth movements for racial and economic justice. Our campus mirrors national activism. As we write this piece, students are rallying to establish HWS Colleges as a sanctuary campus, participating in the International Women's Day Strike, marching against the Muslim Ban, and participating in national marches. Our students are calling us to the realities of the world. In today's climate of social activism, we believe SLCE, combined with IGD, is uniquely situated to address these realities.

We both affirm our students' street-level activism and assert that SLCE educators have a special role to play in supporting democratic urges. Student activism often engages in discrete acts of virtue signaling (e.g., a single rally or vigil), rather than building, power at a grassroots level to achieve systemic change. This is where IGD holds a capacity for generating student and community civic collaborations: by supporting collaborative learning. …

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