Civic Literacy across the Curriculum
Seth Pollack, professor and director of the Service Learning Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay
A CSUMB Americorps member and a student share the rich compost produced at the Salinas Chinatown Community Garden.
Founded in 1995, California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) has become nationally recognized for its commitment to developing students' capacity to lead socially and civically engaged lives. At CSUMB, civic literacy is as important an educational goal as the more traditional forms of literacy. Building on its commitment to diversity and social justice, CSUMB defines civic literacy as the "knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need to work effectively in a diverse society to create more just and equitable workplaces, communities and social institutions" (CSUMB 2005). Achieving this goal has been the focus of CSUMB's innovative service-learning program.
All CSUMB undergraduates complete at least two service-learning requirements: a lower-division course called Introduction to Service in Multicultural Communities, and at least one upper-division service-learning course in their major. The lower-division course gives students a foundation in issues of service, social group identity, justice, and social responsibility, while the upper-division course exposes them to issues and questions related to social justice and social responsibility that are pertinent to their future careers or fields of study. In each course, students work in the community for thirty to fifty hours during the semester, collectively contributing over sixty thousand hours of service annually to community partners in the region.
Outcomes-Based Faculty Development
The most important aspect of CSUMB's service-learning program is the depth of integration of issues of justice and social responsibility in the service-learning curriculum across campus. Each department has developed the civic literacy dimension of its academic program with support from the Service Learning Institute, which is organized as an academic department and is thus recognized as a legitimate member of the academic community. The Service Learning Institute has led a series of curriculum development efforts focused on building faculty members' capacity for teaching about service, justice, and social responsibility through their disciplinary lenses. Essential to this process is the identification of a key social justice question that guides faculty's curriculum development work.
Using an outcomes-based framework, these workshops have enabled faculty to ground the overarching Upper Division Service-Learning Outcomes in the context and content of their particular field or discipline (CSUMB 2010; see sidebar). As a result, each discipline at CSUMB has entered the conversation about justice and social responsibility on its own terms, and has come to more fully own these aspects of its academic program.
|CSUMB Upper Division Service-Learning Outcomes
Self and Social Awareness: Students deepen their understanding and analysis of the social, cultural, and civic aspects of their personal and professional identities.
Service and Social Responsibility: Students deepen their understanding of the social responsibility of professionals in their field or discipline, and analyze how their professional activities and knowledge can contribute to greater long-term societal well-being.
Community and Social Justice: Students evaluate how the actions of professionals and institutions in their field or discipline foster both equity and inequity in communities and society.
Multicultural Community Building/Civic Engagement: Students learn from and work responsively and inclusively with diverse individuals, groups, and organizations to build more just, equitable, and sustainable communities.
CSUMB thus encourages faculty and students to shift their focus from "doing service" to learning about service, justice, and social responsibility from a relevant disciplinary context. This shift does not diminish the act of service or the value of community partnerships. In fact, these elements become even more critical as departments begin to engage more deeply with injustice and inequality experienced by communities. As faculty strive to develop courses that embrace these issues, the knowledge held by community members and non-university experts becomes essential. While the hours of service and number of completed projects are important, the establishment of a rich, community-engaged discourse about justice and social responsibility across campus may be the greater accomplishment.
Three Diverse Examples
What does the commitment to educating students for justice and social responsibility look like across programs? The following examples are drawn from each of CSUMB's three colleges: the College of Professional Studies; the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; and the College of Science, Media Arts, and Technology.
Business 303S: Community Economic Development. Every CSUMB business student takes BUS 303S, devoting fifty hours of service to a community organization focused on local education or economic development. Students explore concepts of cultural identity and examine how power relationships among cultural groups affect local economic development and resource distribution. The overarching question that guides student learning is: "How can businesses balance the 'triple bottom lines' of profit, people, and planet?" In the community, students work with local schools, businesses, social service agencies, and economic development corporations all struggling to be profitable while having a positive community impact. For example, students have helped a local community garden produce worm compost as a source of income. Through the "triple bottom line," issues of justice and social responsibility have found solid grounding in CSUMB's business school.
Information Technology 361S: Technology Tutors. All students in the School of Information Technology and Communications Design (ITCD) are required to take this service-learning course. Previously, students worked on projects like designing websites and building networks for community organizations, but the connections between their field and issues of justice or social responsibility were not readily clear. The course changed dramatically when the "digital divide" became its organizing theme. Students began to wrestle with the guiding question, "How has digital technology accentuated or alleviated historical inequalities in our community, and what is my responsibility for addressing the digital divide as a future IT professional?" As a result, students are examining the social implications of technological advances and using technology to reduce inequality and marginalization. Among other efforts, ITCD students have helped create and staff a computer training center accessible to the most marginalized members of the community, including the homeless.
Visual and Public Art 320S: Museum Studies. The Visual and Public Art department has long-standing relationships with numerous museums and historic buildings in the region. CSUMB museum studies students learn important curatorial skills while working with these museums to collect, preserve, and display historical objects. These students have increasingly examined the museums' role in a diverse society guided by the key question: "How does a society or a cultural institution decide what is worth collecting, preserving, and displaying?" Faculty and students have collaborated with local institutions (including the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History) to develop new exhibits focusing on the region's diverse cultural history. In this way, CSUMB's Visual and Public Art program is addressing issues of justice and social responsibility, while the region's cultural institutions are creating stronger links to the community's diverse past and laying the groundwork for a more inclusive future.
Centering Civic Literacy
Building a vibrant democracy requires each new generation of citizens to embrace their responsibilities to the national, and now global, commons. In the global twenty-first century, higher education must play a central role in equipping citizens for this ever more complex civic mission. For this to happen, academic departments must more fully embrace civic literacy outcomes as central components of courses and degree programs.
CSUMB has chosen to make civic literacy a serious, legitimate, and rigorous academic endeavor. The result has been an ever-deepening web of relationships between university faculty, staff, and students, and our diverse regional communities. We have not only completed many meaningful community-based projects, but have also sparked rich discussions in our classrooms and departments about our respective roles in building more just and equitable communities. CSUMB's journey toward twenty-first-century civic literacy has been powerfully transformative, not only for students and communities, but for faculty and their departments—perhaps the most critical transformation of all.
CSUMB. 2005. Multicultural Community Builder. http://service.csumb.edu/sites/default/files/101/igx_migrate/files/SLI0100.pdf
———. 2010. Upper Division Service Learning Outcomes. http://senate.csumb.edu/e-committees.