Prerequisite: Social Responsibility
When they return to class and relate their world experiences, our class work takes on a new dimension.”
In Karen Rader’s class, “Genetics, Biotechnology and Society,” students study political and ethical issues in genetics, and debate such issues as prenatal testing, cloning and funding the human genome project. Rader, holder of the Marilyn Simpson Chair in Science and Society, wants students to develop their own attitudes toward these topics; when she first taught the class, however, she found that “it was hard for students to know what they thought about these complex issues, with their limited experience about how decisions are made in the so-called real world.”
Rader’s solution was to add a service learning component to the course, and now her students now volunteer with organizations that assist and advocate for people with genetic disorders. Rader believes that these experiences give students the chance to see how decisions are made in real-life situations, and helps them develop sustainable positions about genetics and society.
Eric Nordstrom ’03 works at a care facility for people with multiple handicaps, both physical and mental. “I do various creative movement exercises based on my dance background,” says Nordstrom. “I see firsthand the residents’ personal struggles and their successes. Back in class I’m able to share what I’ve learned about interacting with people with physical disabilities—and the value of their lives.”
The idea that community service enhances academic learning has been part of the Sarah Lawrence pedagogy since the 1930s. Early students were active in Yonkers hospitals, the Yonkers Housing Authority, Otis Elevator and the Alexander Smith Carpet Factory. The goal of service learning, says Irene King, director of community partnerships and service learning, is “to train students to think critically about the causes of and responses to social issues, by integrating experiential knowledge with research.” About 300 SLC students currently work in community service learning projects in Westchester County and New York City.
For Dean Hubbard’s course on labor law and globalization, Rebekah Horowitz ’03 volunteers with the Working Families Party, a new statewide political party launched by community, religious and union groups. Horowitz says that much of her class work has revealed the difficulties and frustrations inherent in changing public policy. But her service learning experience—helping to pass a wage bill for Westchester child care and health care workers—was “a refreshing look at how things can work. We can make a difference and change things for the better.”
“Classroom activities often address issues in the abstract,” says Hubbard, who holds the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy. “When kids use these concepts in the community, the abstract becomes concrete. When they return to class and relate their world experiences, our class work takes on a new dimension.”