Social Justice Earns Credit
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 02:10
Classes that are more than three credits usually involve extra course hours or lab sessions. But for some students, a fourth credit signifies an engagement with social justice rather than more time in the classroom.
Through the Center for Social Justice’s fourth-credit option program, approximately 20 students expand on course material by volunteering for related community-based organizations.
“The goal is to help them understand their material more deeply and reflect based on community experience,” Executive Director of the CSJ Andria Wisler said.
The broad nature of social justice work gives students the flexibility to apply the fourth credit to a range of classes across departments.
Community-based organizations include government agencies, nonprofits, non-governmental organizations or schools. Students can do work ranging from service to policy analysis, research or advocacy work. All students who wish to participate can apply to the program; it is possible to receive a CSJ fourth credit for a class even if the professor does not participate.
“There’s no list of classes that accept the fourth credit,” Wisler said. “Rather, it’s that the course material deepens the student’s community engagement work and vice versa.”
James Gadea (SFS ’16), who is receiving his fourth credit in his “International Trade” class, works with the Kalmanovitz Initiative Day Laborer Exchange Program.
“You gain a deeper insight into the system and gain a more personal touch to your studies,” Gadea said. “You’re actually talking to someone that’s affected by international trade, rather than reading about the effects of international trade in a textbook or doing Aplia problems.”
For many, the work is more fulfilling than simply receiving a grade in a course.
“We’ve had kids who we now see in college or graduating high school. It’s really nice to keep up with someone and see that they’re doing well when all odds are against them,” Chloe Forman (COL ’14) said of her fourth-credit experience in the After School Kids program in conjunction with a sociology class.
Drawing the link between class and service can prove more difficult in some partnerships than others.
“I think some of the other people that were doing the fourth-credit option had classes that were more relatable because they were more directly sociology or social justice classes, and mine was a bit more of a struggle to find the link,” Forman said.
Participant Gilda Gallardo (COL ’17) is working with the D.C. Schools program as part of her linguistics class. Her own experience as an immigrant motivated her to volunteer at local schools.
“When I immigrated to the U.S., I moved into a Latino ghetto in the heart of Orange County, [Calif.], and in my neighborhood, it was hard to come by people that spoke English, so it was an academic struggle for me,” Gallardo said. “There was actually a group of college students from neighboring universities to come tutor us.”
In addition to 40 hours of volunteer work over the course of the semester, participants are expected to engage in three dialogue sessions.
“The dialogue sessions give students the ability to interact with other fourth-credit students, so they can get an even broader and deeper understanding of issues affecting our D.C. community,” Wisler said.
Students are also expected to submit three reflection pieces on their experiences.
“I think it’s important to reflect,” Gallardo said. “It’s practice for the real world when I actually do this, and spiritually, I think it’s fulfilling.”
Participants also believe the program has the potential to engage a larger cross section of the student body in community service.
“I’d like to see it as a catalyst for bringing about a deeper involvement in community service and community interaction,” Gadea said.