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Reviewed by:
  • Educating at the Boundaries: “Community Matters” Symposium
  • Holly Grace Nelson (bio)
Educating at the Boundaries: “Community Matters” Symposium Hunter College New York, New York April 29–30, 2011

The Erasing Boundaries project seeks to promote service-learning activities, particularly across disciplinary boundaries. Hunter College hosted the second national symposium with sponsorship by The Hamer Center for Community Design at Penn State University and the Cornell Public Service Center. The symposium included two keynote addresses; one by David Scobey, Dean of the New School for General Studies and the Milano School for Management and Urban Policy, and the other by Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Professor and Director of the Center for Urban Studies, SUNY Buffalo. Twenty-eight other presentations, an interactive workshop titled “Working with, not for, communities,” and a poster session comprised the rest of the schedule.

Scobey addressed “The place of engaged learning in a glocal and virtual university.” Not a designer himself, he focused on his experiences with the Arts in Citizenship project that he helped found at the University of Michigan, as well as an oral history project in the mill town of Lewiston, Maine. The oral history project, from his time at Bates College, grew into student projects working with refugees from (and eventually in) Somalia. Scobey spoke of democracy as a means to make design more generative through community engagement and presented an overview of conflicts between placemaking and local collaboration in a global world (“glocalism”). He spoke about the geography of engagement—“in here” versus “out there”—noting that collaborative engagement creates knowledge about and with the world. Scobey paralleled the cultural history of immigration, class, and racial inequalities in Lewiston with a recent influx of Somali refugees, although local residents had initial difficulty in seeing the connection between the new and the old immigrant stories. He concluded that we must leave our “neat space” here and get “out there.” International universities continue to be bottom-up rather than top-down organizations, and the only way for the academic leap to globalism to represent democratic values is to educate for citizenship and create common stories from our experiences.

Taylor’s keynote focused on the transformation of the relationship between the university and distressed communities and concluded with an illustration of his themes in the Futures Academy, a K–8 school in Buffalo, New York. Over the last few decades, Taylor said, the university has evolved into an entrepreneurial model as opposed to a democratic, people-centered, cosmopolitan, engaged model capable of assisting in the transformation of distressed cities—a growing, worldwide problem. The entrepreneurial university is a threat to the engaged university; its ideals are antithetical. He stressed the need to develop a theory of urban justice and to create programs that assist in the regeneration of neighborhoods, a [End Page 326] partnering of people and place. Taylor cited the work of David Harvey and noted Kofi Annan’s “smaller and larger freedoms,” the larger freedoms beyond the right to vote or express oneself that promote human flourishing—in short, people are not free if they live in hopelessness and fear. He argued that a university cannot be both entrepreneurial and engaged because the entrepreneurial role is insidious, and the market is a hungry dog that must be fed before it eats people.

Other presentations represented a broad spectrum of service learning pedagogy and research, with particular focus on theoretical approaches, assessment, and critique. Wolfram Hoefer (Rutgers University) set the context by discussing the unique capacity of service learning studios to open discussion on contested land use issues through exploratory student work and participatory processes. A fight between preservationists and environmentalists over the future use of the Hackensack Water Project that led politicians to avoid action allowed sophomore students to open communication channels and undertake cultural landscape studies that give voice to both sides. Daniel Winterbottom and Ben Spencer (University of Washington), and David Watts (California Polytechnic State University) addressed international design-build projects. They discussed multicultural education occurring through total immersion in a new context and the challenge to respond quickly to unexpected changes in community expectations.

It was apparent that successful service-learning can operate simultaneously on multiple levels, and...


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pp. 326-328
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