October 2009


Stonehill Students View “The World As Their Classroom”

 

Jill Jansson

10/14/09

 

Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC) is hosting a community meeting with the Federal Reserve and Rep Barney Frank and Rep Stephen Lynch, on Nov. 1 to discuss housing foreclosures in Brockton, which has the highest rate in Massachusetts. They will tour Brockton, one of the nine places the congressmen will visit across the country, and then they will speak at St. Patrick’s Church on Main Street in Brockton.

Stonehill’s Community-based Learning Office is pushing students to attend the meeting. A bus will provide transportation for students.

The Office of Community-Based Learning (OCBL) stands by its motto, “The World is our Classroom; Its Problems Our Curriculum,” as it seeks out issues, such as housing foreclosure. It partners with local organizations, such as BIC, to integrate these issues into Stonehill students’ course work.

The capstone class, Leadership and Communication, which is instructed by professor Monique Myers, has BIC as one of its community partners. Carolyn Powers, a student in Myers’ class, is heading publicity for the event around campus.

Powers, a senior communications major, and her classmate Nicole Carbone are the only students from the class who chose to work with BIC. Powers decided to work with BIC because it allowed her to educate herself and others about the housing foreclosure crisis.

“We traveled into Brockton and saw abandoned buildings, listened to stories about real people losing their homes, and have jumped on board with community leaders to organize this historic meeting,” said Powers.   

Powers and Carbone have been increasing awareness around campus by asking Stonehill professors to let them prepare a five to 10 minute presentation for their classes. They are also giving presentations to societies and clubs on campus, holding open discussions, making facebook groups, sending out listservs, hanging up posters, and passing out flyers with a bold headline that says, “Hold the Fed and Congress Accountable.”

They are also planning a merit point presentation in Martin on Oct. 28, where a panel will speak on the issue. They hope to get Corey Dolgon, the director of community-based learning, Rita Rosenthal, communications professor, Quinn Rallins, a Brockton Interfaith Community organizer, a Brockton resident who has been foreclosed on, and a Stonehill student to share their thoughts.

Rallins works as the liaison between BIC and CBL at Stonehill. “I work with Carolyn and Nicole to reach out to the Stonehill Community and make sure the students understand the dynamics of the meeting. I think it’s important for them to take ownership of the issue,” said Rallins.

“When students hear that members from the Obama administration, the Federal Reserve, and Congressman Barney Frank and Stephen Lynch, are coming to Brockton, they understand that something big is going on and they want to be a part of it.  This meeting is a part of our community, it is about our community, it involves and engages us,” said Powers.

“All the students are taking the bull by the horns and stepping up. I’m really impressed,” said Kate Rafey, the new coordinator of community-based learning. She is pleased that Stonehill students, like Powers and Carbone, are taking on the responsibility to open up CBL opportunities to all Stonehill students.

Rafey was brought to Stonehill through the government program, Massachusetts Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA. She earned her master’s and undergraduate degrees at Clark University in Worcester. She always knew she wanted to serve the community. “I loved Obama’s call to service,” she said.  

Rafey is one of 30 coordinators across campuses all over Massachusetts, working with college students to increase the integration of community service with course curriculum.  

“Stonehill was the best fit for me,” she said.         

OCBL was previously located in Campus Ministry with the other volunteer offices, such as, post-grad opportunities, Into the Streets, and the HOPE trip. “These offices were decentralized,” said Rafey.

CBL, now, has its own, new office space in the Center for Teaching and Learning, Duffy 114. This new office was set up through funding from the Davis Foundation. Rafey was brought to Stonehill on a three-year grant of $125,000 from the Davis Foundation. 

Rafey’s job is to help faculty design CBL courses that focus on “working in the community through course work,” she said.

“In these courses students conduct research that will go back and benefit the community. It benefits them because it gives them real world experience, and it makes Stonehill’s image good because it is giving back to the community,” said Rafey.

Powers sees community involvement as a way to get off campus. “It’s easy to isolate ourselves from the outside world and CBL courses let us tap back into reality,” said Powers.

Rafey and Dolgon, the director of community-based learning, are new to Stonehill this year. “We are still getting a feel for what Stonehill students want from us. The office has only been around for a couple months now. We’re still learning about the students, the atmosphere and the culture around campus,” said Rafey.

“We have a lot of ideas brewing for next semester, but right now we’re just forming partnerships, getting to know people in the community and working to get the office up and running.”

On Oct. 15 a workshop was held for faculty where they could learn how and why they should design a CBL course. “A professor may not see how to connect, say, an English course to serving the community,” Rafey said.  

Rafey’s desk sits directly across from the opened door to Duffy’s first floor hallway. Above her hangs an organized, colorful, homemade chart that displays all the CBL courses that are, either, learning communities or capstones. It lists the department, faculty member and each CBL course’s community partner. She is enthusiastic about the growing list of CBL courses.

Among many other capstones and learning communities are: professor Angela Paradise’s mediated communication theory capstone class, which works at the Davis School in Brockton to educate middle school students about media literacy, and professor Sharon Ramos-Goyette’s brain and behavior course in the learning community, Neuroscience: Mind, Body, Community that works with the House of Possibilities in Easton.     

“It is really important for students to get involved because there are really important issues in our community,” said Rafey.

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This is an article that was written for The Summit, the Stonehill College student newspaper. Carolyn is taking a service-;earning course on leadership and is working to organize Stonehill students to come to the Federal Reserve Meeting in Brockton

Federal Reserve Coming to Brockton

Stonehill Students Help Organize One of Nine National Town Hall Meetings

By Carolyn Powers

cpowers@students.stonehill.edu

On November 1st, 2009 members from the Obama Administration, the Federal Reserve, and Congressman Barney Frank will be hosting one of nine national town hall meetings in Brockton.  Focusing on the current foreclosure crisis sweeping across our nation, this meeting is the only one of its kind being held in the North East.

Thousands of people will be coming from all corners of our northern states to voice their opinions on this matter.  These people have lost their homes, their lives have been turned upside down, and they are finally getting the chance to have our federal government hear them out.

How aware are you about this crisis? Do you know this is going on?

Imagine you have 30 days to get out of your dorm room.  No chance to fight it, you’re out. Reslife won’t listen to your cries, your parents can’t help you, you’re evicted.  What would you do? Where would you go?

For over 3 million families in America, this has become their reality.  A foreclosure epidemic is in full effect.  When Katrina blew through New Orleans, 133,000 families were left homeless.  Hundreds of thousands of people were left to find other places to live across the country.  Now, 30 times that number have been displaced. 

The cause of these evictions stems back to around 2003. Around this time, low-income families began being fed faulty subprime loans.  These loans were distributed by privately owned, non-regulated mortgage companies.  With no necessary background information, or income statement, families were given the opportunity to finally live up to the American dream; they could own their own home.  But there was a catch; hidden in the mountain of paperwork associated with mortgages were hidden fees and plans to increase interest rates. 

This is when the house of cards fell.  Families who had been able to make their payments suddenly were unable to.  It soon became a struggle to pay off their loans and they ultimately couldn’t do it anymore.  To make matters worse, their banks wouldn’t meet with them.  They were simply evicted.

As a result of this our economy has suffered tremendously, millions of jobs have been lost, homelessness has increased, violence is on the rise, the amount of abandoned buildings is overwhelming, health risks have risen, and the list goes on.

The other problem is that this is not just affecting the low-income families; it is affecting you.  As college students here at Stonehill, it is often easy to feel protected by our bubble.  These foreclosures aren’t kicking us out of our dorms; they aren’t making us feel unsafe or unprotected.  But the reality is we are not going to be protected forever.  Someday soon we are all going to graduate, apply for jobs, purchase homes, and do all the things that grownups are supposed to do.  But right now, at the state our economy is in, this is not going to be the easiest task.

We have all heard our parents and older peers tell us how brutal the workforce is right now.  Hearing that it is impossible to get a job these days is not new news.  But what are we doing about this problem?

Here at Stonehill, students have organized with Brockton Interfaith Council to help coordinate one of nine National Town Hall Meetings about the foreclosure crisis.  On November 1st at 6:00pm, members of the Obama Administration, the Federal Reserve, and Congressman Barney Frank will be hosting a meeting open to the public.  Stonehill will be providing transportation for all students who are interested in attending.

By attending this meeting we are showing the Federal Government that we care about these foreclosures and about our future. If we show up in large numbers from this campus we are showing that Stonehill cares.  We want our national leaders to recognize the fact that we care about the decisions they make because these decisions affect us.  It is vital that we make our mark. These foreclosures have evicted over 3 million families and it is time they stop.

If you are interested in attending the meeting on Nov. 1st please contact me at cpowers@students.stonehill.edu or Nicole Carbone at ncarbone@students.stonehill.edu

Carolyn Powers- Class of 2010

Communication Major/ Spanish Minor

“The local community must be the microcosm of our pluralistic, inclusive democracy, and the realization of our democratic ideals. Community is, in fact, democracy incarnate, where culture is woven into the fabric of our daily lives, not worn as a decoration on its surface, or observed from afar as the province of the priveliged few.”

–Sondra Meyers

Most of the time, when we attend academic conferences, there is plenty of networking, panel discussions, delicious food and if we’re lucky a keynote speaker with a point. The hotels are always beautiful and the area in which the conference takes place in is always a place of particular interest.

At the Imagining America Conference a couple weeks ago, held in the French Quarter of New Orleans, there was of course the typical amount of networking and fascinating panel discussions but as far as conferences go, it certainly takes the cake for creativity.

I am sure part of that has to do with the grandiose enticement of New Orleans itself but the thing about attending a conference that’s base of interest is built upon culture and art is that the conference coordinators have an obligation to introduce you to the area through many a unique path.

Imagining America is a consortium of colleges and universities that are dedicated to using art and scholarship as a tool for public engagement. And what better place to hold the annual conference than in the city where our nation failed to reach out four years prior and since then has been relying on artists and civic engagement to pick up its pieces?

New Orleans was the perfect backdrop for such a conference. On a light note, we got to hear from artists and public scholars that are working with inner city youth and college students to create art in response to their everyday lives and crises resulting from Katrina. A lot of the art was quite powerful and moving–such as a video of an interpretive dance done at a college depicting people trying to stay alive on their rooftops in the aftermath of the hurricane.

IA ensures that while at the conference, its participants get to taste the culture of where they are. Our keynote speaker was in a small museum in the French Quarter and was not simply speaking about a topic but rather shared with us some jazz music from his band. I am a huge jazz fan so this was particularly fun for me. The speaker showed the difference between rags, blues, funeral marches, Post-Katrina jazz, etc. The end result was everyone up on their feet dancing–including myself. How often does THAT happen at a conference?

In addition, one woman opened her home up to us in the lower 9th Ward on the first night. We were able to sit back, relax, and enjoy two documentaries in her backyard. To me, being outside in the heat when it is so cold up north, was an added bonus. The first film was about Sekou Sundiata, who created the America Project. He asked his students about what it meant to them to be American, a citizen and to respond to the articles and events they attended through writing. I have a copy of this documentary, as well as the documtary theatre piece Sundiata performed, called the 51st (dream) state. It was fascinating to learn about his life as well as hear about the people who were affected by his ideas. I think in the spirit of Sundiata, I would like to hold Citizenship Dinners, where people come together to discuss identity and how we can make a better America.

The second film was about the years of oppression many African Americans have undergone in New Orleans, ending of course, with Katrina and the ideals of rebuilding. Of course, I was aware before seeing the film just how horrible things has been during Katrina but I was completely ignorant to all of the atrocious actions that took place before Katrina. That was quite eye-opening. The name of the film is “Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.” It should also be known that Treme is quite beautiful. I had the opportunity to walk around. I think if I was to move to NOLA, I would live here.

The last day of the conference was particularly noteworthy because all panel discussions took place at various museums in the city–rather than in the hotel. In the afternoon, I hopped on a tour, led by an architect professor from Tulane University, and was lucky enough to see what is being done in the city in terms of houses being built as well as what has NOT been done. This was probably the part of the trip that “hit home” the most. I cannot believe how many homes have still not been fixed. I saw some of the homes Tulane is building, as well as some of the homes Brad Pitt has been building. I am happy that there is still hope in the city. Our tour brought us to a very large community garden as well as the residency of a man in the 9th Ward who has built a sort of musuem in a small house behind his home. University students from all over the country have helped him and inside, there are all sorts of memorabilia about what happened before Katrina. It is comforting to know that there are some who still believe their city will one day shine again.

I could probably write about the architecture of NOLA and how innovative and important it is to the city to keep these homes that are such a large part of the culture around and reconstructed…

Our tour ended in the 7th Ward, at an organization called The Porch, which is a place for kids to go to after-school. They have a Youth Theatre Troupe as well as video projects. (I have a copy of “Down in the 7th” if anyone is interested in seeing it).

There were some key buzz words that popped up in numerous panel discussions and posters. Digital Storytelling and Oral History Projects. I am convinced we need to capitalize on both of these here at Stonehill. We have one professor who is doing an oral history project with her students and I was also excited to hear that the Center for Teaching and Learning is also doing a workshop on using Digital Storytelling, November 9.

Some really great examples of Digital Storytelling from a panel discussion on rural America:

www.blackbelt100lenses.org : At the University of Alabama’s Center for Community Partnership, graduate student Elliot Knight is working with high school students in the Black Belt County on a PhotoVoice project. (I also have the DVD of this if you’d like an example of digital storytelling). The Birmingham newspaper called The Black Belt County of Alabama “third world country”; in response to this, Knight, also a photographer, gave students cameras and asked them to take photos of their homes, a placemaking project. The students also had to write poems about their homes. The idea was to get these students excited about where they were from as well as show the world that the Black belt region was in no way a third world country.

http://artofregionalchange.ucdavis.edu/ : The Art of Regional Change is an organization run out of UC Davis. There are many projects run out of this center but one in particular is about how farmers in the Sierra Valley region are in danger of losing their land to corporations in the Reno Valley. Students and faculty working at the center have recorded the stories of these individuals and taught them how to create their own oral histories. The final project has been used to raise awareness of what is going on in the region so that voters and government officials can make more informed decisions about how this directly affects people’s lives.

I would love for our office to be more involved in activities of this nature and importance. I want to know more about the people of Brockton and their lives. I really think digital storytelling and oral histories are the way to go. (They are also paperless!)