Exploring Community and Citizenship at St. Olaf College
In Northfield, Minnesota, a group of students at St. Olaf College recently reflected on completing a class series devoted to exploring concepts of citizenship, place, and community in America from a historical and civic engagement perspective.
The students took four, sequential courses together, starting with Civic Engagement: Voting and Citizenship . Caught in the midst of the 2008 national election, students taught civics classes at the local high school and registered voters for the election.
In their second semester, students took Local Vistas and Sustainability: Making and Re-Making Landscapes , which involved visiting local historical sites in and around Northfield, helping them to map their community and understand the "context of the community."
Reflecting on the experience of visiting local historical sites in Northfield, one student wrote, "I feel so much more connected to Northfield, the city I live in for the majority of the year." Another student wrote, "No matter how seemingly insignificant, the local is always important."
The students kicked off the 2009 fall semester with Immigration and Ethnicity in the Local Schools . Students used early 20th century census data to understand the effects of immigration in the Northfield schools, and in the process of analyzing this data, the students learned an accidental lesson about the social history of Northfield when they found records of immigrants with the same surnames as some of their classmates.
Our American Lives: Globalization and Citizenship Radio Project was the final course in the four-part series. Modeled after This American Life , students worked in small groups to create radio shows about stories that had both a local and a global perspective.
Students’ radio shows, available via the link at the end of this presentation, covered topics ranging from seafood and lutefisk, to t-shirt production. The students studying t-shirt production used their connections with local t-shirt producers to create a class t-shirt. The students found that while t-shirts were a global production that usually required inputs from multiple countries, they also carried a local context in that t-shirts imply membership, whether with a team, an institution, or a class.
Another student radio show investigated the community impact of a proposed ethanol plant, which, in the end, was never built due to community intervention. The students were enthusiastic about being able to create radio shows that captured the spirit of their community. Said one student, “It just made it so much more personal. The radio show was a really fun way to collaborate.”
Led by Professor Eric Fure-Slocum, the classes were also co-taught by Colin Wells, Matt Rohn, Judy Kutulas, and Megan Feeney, respectively. In addition to the multiple partnerships that the professors and the students forged in the community, they also partnered with the St. Olaf Center for Experiential Learning and its Associate Director, Nate Jacob, who helped facilitate the students’ reflection at the end of the course series by conducting a world café series of reflection projects.
During the reflection process, the students talked about how the course series and its emphasis on civic engagement helped them to get to know Northfield. Several students said that because of their experience they were now more involved, while others wrote that the class had changed how they thought of learning. A student wrote, “The history and ideas we read about in class were no longer just text in books, but real and living.”
“ Thanks to the ACE projects, I have realized that Northfield, while it is small, has a very rich history that ties heavily into the development of bigger cities like Minneapolis as well as smaller cities in the surrounding areas…Northfield’s gradual development was connected to a wide variety of economic and political developments I never even thought about.”
To learn more about American Conversations and St. Olaf College, visit www.stolaf.edu/services/cel/students/ACE_Am_Studies.html To learn more about Minnesota Campus Compact, visit www.mncampuscompact.org