Building Stronger Communities: Indiana University and Emerson Neighborhood, Gary, Indiana

Frank Nierzwicki, Clinical Assistant Professor, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Ellen Szarleta, Professor, Indiana University Northwest, Rev. Curtis Whittaker, Progressive Community Church

We will be presenting the concept of community building between one university, on two campuses, with a faith-based nonprofit in Gary, Indiana.  Case studies will include information from undergraduate and graduate courses and how joint campuses can function during the COVID era.

We define common good as a set of constantly changing shared interests that reflect the social and economic context of those acting together.

We will share insights and lessons learned from our experience in designing and co-implementing an online community-development serving-learning course.  The presenters will share the components found to be critical to developing a sustainable model of community engagement that incorporates service-learning initiatives connected over time and across subject matter areas.   Relationship building, trust, action-focused learning activities, and program evaluation are combined to create a community engagement initiative that reflects the complex nature of community development in an urban-core community located in Northwest Indiana.  Ultimately, the initiative will support a multi-campus engagement collaborative effort to connect students across Indiana with our communities to promote racial and economic justice.

The purpose of the presentation is to share lessons learned from the development and implementation of an online service-learning graduate capstone course. Specifically, we will

  • share a justice-based model critical service-learning [for the online environment]
  • share key opportunities for advancing student learning using critical service-learning employed in a campus partnership, including how to leverage local knowledge and networks
  • share the challenges related to framing community-university partnerships for critical service-learning when physical distancing and location limit personal contact.

We embrace the practice of critical service-learning and the principle that it is essential to do no harm. Critical service-learning practices “interrogate systems and structures of inequality, question the distribution of power, and seek to develop authentic relationships among students, faculty, and community partners.” (Mitchell, 2008) In support of this approach, we draw upon the foundational principles of authentic community engagement, mutual benefit, and reciprocity, to create an overarching framework for the development of service-learning initiatives joined over time, across undergraduate and graduate-level courses, as well as subject matter areas. (Janke, 2018) The unifying focus of these initiatives is social and economic justice, thus preparing students to address some of the most complex and pressing issues facing our communities, state, and country today by linking research to action  (Abraham & Purkayastha, 2012)