For 25 years, Community Service-Learning has been teaching students something truly profound about humanity
Stand in the middle of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan and it’s hard to escape the noise, the undulating hum and thrum of cars and buses whizzing past left and right and overhead — San Diegans in a blur at 65 mph. Built directly under the Coronado Bridge, the park is in the figurative and literal shadows. But beneath the din and the gray industrial ceiling, a neighborhood — and the history of its struggle — reveals itself layer by colorful layer.
This largely Chicano and Mexican immigrant community absorbed the blows of losing their bayfront access, re-zoning that brought junkyards and factories to their streets, and finally, the bisection of their neighborhood by Interstate 5 and again by the Coronado Bridge. But if a neighborhood can be defined by a single day, for Barrio Logan, it was April 22, 1970. That’s when 200 residents faced down the bulldozers that threatened to replace their promised park with a California Highway Patrol substation. Chicano Park is a testament to the locals’ victory.
Today, more than 50 vibrant and often controversial murals encase the concrete pillars and supporting walls in the park, recording in brushstrokes the lives, heritage and continuing struggles of the community. It’s at once the peoples’ art and a soul-searching outdoor museum that draws admirers from around the world.
Throughout the spring of 2011, Alberto Pulido, USD chair of ethnic studies, and the students in his Chicano/Latino Studies class partnered with five of the original Chicano Park leaders to begin recording the community’s rich history. In class, the students learned about the power of physical space and being able to identify it as your own, and then documented the importance of Chicano Park to the residents of Barrio Logan. These oral histories — interpreted through posters, videos and slide presentations — are now part of the Chicano Park website.
“I have a much greater appreciation for the park because of the hard work the people have been through and are still going through just to keep it,” says Anayensi Jacobo ’11. “Everything in the park is symbolic. Nothing is taken for granted.”
The documentation project emerged from discussions between the Department of Ethnic Studies, the Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL), Creative Collaborations and the Chicano Park Steering Committee. This community/regional development approach — marked by forging partnerships in local communities to understand and help address their unique issues — is the leading edge of community service-learning at USD.
“This opened up a dialogue between the leaders in the community and USD, which was huge,” says CSL Director Chris Nayve ’98, who also holds a law degree and an MBA from USD. “The history of these leaders that we sometimes take for granted is now immortalized and archived and documented.”
The project is a fitting tribute to the 25-year anniversary of community service-learning at USD, established in 1986 as the Volunteer Resources Office under the high aspirations of founding Director Judy Rauner. A pioneer in the field, Rauner championed the ideals of public service through collaboration in the Linda Vista community, introduced course-based service-learning to USD and influenced programs nationally with her emphasis on student leadership development. When she passed away in 2009, a moment of silence was observed at a Continuums of Service conference and, “literally, everyone was in tears,” remembers CSL Assistant Director Brenna Hughes ’05.
Elaine Elliott joined the office in 1995 under Rauner and held the baton as director from 2002 to 2010. Having lived and worked among indigenous communities in Guatemala during the country’s civil war, Elliott ’98 (MA) brought an international focus and a conviction that social justice and service are natural and necessary partners. Cross-border alliances in Tijuana thrived, as did international service-learning in Jamaica, the Philippines and Thailand, an Intersession course she co-taught in Guatemala and immersion trips to New Orleans. At semester’s end, students wrote about the effect of their experiences.
“I would read these things and cry because it really was working,” Elliott recalls. “The students were learning something profound about the world. And to see the positive changes in our work in Linda Vista — seeing real impact in the community — that was wonderful.”
Over the years, the department’s changing name has reflected its expanding mission, from the Volunteer Resources Office to the Center for Community Service-Learning. And now under Nayve, CSL’s work emphasizes deep connections with local and international partners, a steady awareness of justice and the desire to seek frontiers in social engagement.
With the recent announcement that USD was named an Ashoka Changemaker Campus, a designation given to only a handful of other universities in the United States, those frontiers may not be hard to find. Nayve will co-direct the initiative at USD with Patricia Marquez in the School of Business Administration.
Nayve is an ideal choice to lead the department to the next level, say his colleagues. “He is talented enough to pull from us what our vision is too,” explains Hughes. “It’s almost like you have to be careful what you say because if you reach for the stars, he says, ‘Great, I just bought you a rocket. You’re going to the moon.’”
The CSL center staffs a platoon of changemakers through course-based service-learning projects; student-led CASA (Center for Awareness, Service and Action) programs; the Social Issues Committee, which emphasizes awareness and advocacy; and the Youth to College education program, which connects USD mentors and tutors to Linda Vista students.
Every year, nearly 3,000 students participate in CSL programs and almost 70 percent of USD students take part in community service-learning during their years at USD. But numbers aside, every CSL program emphasizes relationships first.
“Whether it’s Migrant Outreach or Juvenile Hall, we always lead with the intention that service is a tool, not the purpose,” says CSL Associate Director John Loggins ’95. “Service is an opportunity for us to use this shared experience to connect with each other. We don’t presume we are going to change anything but ourselves in the process.”
“It’s feeling connected beyond USD that matters,” points out Ilana Sabban Lopez ’11 (MEd), CSL program director for the Youth to College education program. “Younger students learn so much from the college students, but the college students learn too. The relationship can be transformational for both. That wouldn’t happen if they were only talking about math.”
One of the most dramatic shifts in service-learning at USD is the concentrated effort to pair student skills with community needs. Tara Ceranic’s students serve as teams of business consultants for a semester with partner companies, doing work such as conducting analyses on diversity, ethics and social responsibility.
“What I didn’t want was just a tack-on to my course. I can’t take 105 undergraduates to go volunteer for an afternoon,” says Ceranic, assistant professor of social and legal research. “It’s awesome to have my students put what we’re talking about in class into the context of an actual company.”
Ceranic developed her project through the Community Service-Learning Faculty Scholar program, which helps faculty integrate service-learning for the first time, or reinvigorate existing efforts. Scholars work with Judith Liu, sociology professor and longtime CSL faculty liaison, to learn about the possibilities of service-learning, then design and implement their project.
“The goal is to think of it as a progression,” Liu says. “How do you rethink some of your wonderful ideas, translate them into activities that can involve students and engage the community in a meaningful way?” The ready support of the CSL staff and Liu as faculty liaison makes service-learning infinitely more manageable and therefore, more possible, say faculty members.
“I have colleagues at other institutions that have tried to do service-learning partnerships and they’ve burned out,” explains Michelle Jacob, associate professor of ethnic studies, who incorporates service with the American Indian Recruitment Programs into her classes. “Knowing I have someone I can turn to makes a huge difference for me as a faculty member.”
Kevin Guerrieri, chair of the Department of Languages and Liter-atures, furthered cultural understanding across the border with members of the Mixtec indigenous community and the students in his Cultural History of Latin America course. Together, his students and Mixtec community members in Linda Vista and Tijuana completed three portable murals, half on each side of the border. The Mixtec participants reflected on their homeland and their identity while the USD students saw their lessons on colonization, independence for indigenous populations and border issues come alive.
“It’s a basic premise that students need to come into contact with other ways of knowing,” says Guerrieri, who adds that service-learning can instill a desire to create a more just world.
Senior sociology major Maria Silva identifies with the workers she has served through the Migrant Outreach program since her freshman days in Contemporary Social Issues. “Working with migrants has made me ex-tremely sensitive to the hardships this population faces as they try to establish themselves in a new country where they hardly know anyone, don’t speak the language and are increasingly discriminated against,”she says.
Student roles in service-learning come in as many shapes and sizes as the projects, but one constant at USD is student leadership development. In fact, the CSL staff deliberately took the old leadership model of one person at the top of a pyramid and flipped it.
“The nature of this work is that if you are truly going to be collaborative and you are truly going to be turning leadership on its head, you have to model that,” Nayve says. “The notion of who holds the knowledge and experience is multigenerational and varied. Having student and faculty input is just part of the culture of our office.”
Every service project has student leaders who are the points of contact between the students and faculty, CSL staff and community partners. In addition, students establish, staff and lead CASA programs, such as the Sustainability/Fair Trade Task Force and hunger and homelessness awareness. They also mentor their fellow students to ever-higher levels of responsibility and help develop new directions for the department.
The result for students is the budding of potential and the realization that their voice matters. That knowledge can translate into life-changing decisions. After immersing herself at Juvenile Hall, first as a course-based student volunteer and currently as a work-study site coordinator, senior psychology major Camille Rodrigues changed her academic plan to include a sociology minor and a nonprofit leadership and management certificate.
“I can’t even quantify all of the ways I have grown through community service-learning,” she says. “I speak differently, I think differently, I interact with people differently. It really expands your horizons.”
Gabe Adibe, a senior majoring in community and urban culture, was a student leader at Toussaint Academy group home and is founder of the Think Club — a community of students unified by a desire to discuss and act upon important issues. When he retires from the military in about 10 years, he plans to work in a position in which he can help better his community. Jeremy Day ’11, who served with CASA, the Social Issues Festival and Beta Theta Pi, is already living his dream of giving back as a managerial consultant for his nonprofit fraternity, and he has long-term plans to start his own nonprofit benefiting international education.
And sometimes, leadership has to be coaxed out of students. During her four years at USD, Adriana Gallardo ’05 progressed from a tutor at the Linda Vista Library to student co-director in the CSL office, where one of her projects was to help organize and lead an alternative spring break to the Philippines. After graduating, she served with Jesuit Volunteers in Nicaragua and then was a community advocate at Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista before entering graduate school for a master’s degree in community planning and an MBA.
“I didn’t consider myself a leader in the beginning,” Gallardo says. “But Chris Nayve believed in me so much that it translated into me believing in myself. The community service-learning office gave me a space to develop my character and test my skills.”
When students like these find and follow their own paths through Community Service-Learning, that’s not just serendipity. That’s one powerful space.