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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Religion and Spanish Community Service Learning

Yesterday I met with my community partner supervisor at Habitat for Humanity. We discussed how next semester's students might be able to use their Spanish more. This semester's students spent most of their time at ReStore and did some translations, but very few Spanish-speakers came to the store while they were volunteering. We brainstormed some ways to increase students' contact with the Latino community in CU and use their Spanish. Then Alejandra mentioned that she also works with St. John church and that our students would be welcome teachers' aides during the Saturday catechism classes. There the students would use Spanish all of the time.

My first reaction was no. I was uncomfortable with the idea of mixing a university course with religion.

Then I began to think about it more. Students have almost ten community partners to choose from for next semester; no one would be obliged to work there. Some students are religious/spiritual; if community-based learning attempts to go beyond the classroom and engage students as "whole people," religion/spirituality is a part of some students' lives. Religion is a part of the culture of many individuals who live in the Latino community; students may gain a broader understanding of the community members' lives if the see them in numerous community contexts.

I knew I had to talk it through with someone else. I called Val Werpetinski and e-mailed Darcy Lear.

Val said many interesting and important things, but for me this was her strongest point: when she has done community service learning within African American communities, churches are often a very important part of the fabric of that community. If you don't engage with them, you may not be truly engaging with the community.

Darcy mentioned a colleague of hers from UNC-CH who does anthropology community service learning with local churches. That never struck her as odd, Darcy said, because that seemed like something that an anthropologist would do. But does Spanish do that?

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that it was one more choice for students. Choices are good.

I will give it a try for one semester and see how it goes.

And I will use it as a teaching tool in class and in reflective diaries for students to discuss the roles of religion in a community and a culture. Positive and negative. Churches as a place of refuge for immigrants facing deportation. Churches as supporters of the Refugee Center. Why is the Refugee Center located in a church? Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, and other religions in Latin America and amongst US Latinos. Maybe we can all learn more about religion, Spanish community service learning, and our own prejudices.

Including mine.

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Thank goodness for such insightful and thoughtful colleagues. It's important to have a community of serious community service learning scholars with whom you can consult. The issues we face can be very complex and it helps when you don't have to face everything alone.

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