Natalie Swartz, Class of 2020
To start each Justice in Housing class meeting, two students shared a reflection paper about their service related to people experiencing housing insecurity. Some students wrestled with how to implement just policies at Harvard Square’s student-run homeless shelters. Others examined the "Not In My Backyard" attitudes in their hometowns regarding affordable housing and homeless services. Reflections drew from – and often challenged – justice philosophy we had read for the course. This opening assignment highlights that Justice in Housing bridged our academic study in the classroom with impact we hoped to make outside of it.
Our professor Kenzie Bok’s design of the course consistently fostered learning beyond our classroom walls. Guest speakers shared their on-the-ground experience with housing advocacy in Boston. Kenzie’s policy work with the Boston Housing Authority gave us insight into how public agencies contend with many of the topics we discussed in class, ranging from integration to the “right to the city.” Another semester assignment asked us to attend a housing-related public meeting in Greater Boston and to reflect on its engagement with theories of justice. For our final papers, which tasked us with examining a housing policy issue through a normative lens, our capstone presentations took place at BHA.
As I became more involved in housing advocacy and service over the course of the semester, Kenzie’s class became more like a daily guide for my work, rather than just a once-a-week seminar. I am a member of a group called Hospitals to Homes, which is a Harvard-based coalition of doctors and students working with Boston-area hospitals to increase access to housing for homeless patients. SS68 gave me the opportunity to reflect on the moral assumptions, such as a right to housing, that underly H2H’s mission and to consider how our goals fit into the greater affordable housing landscape in Boston. Over the course of the semester, I was also preparing to become a director for the Harvard Square Summer Shelter. As a director, I have thought back often to the theories we discussed in class as we strive to make the shelter the most just place it can be. I am confident that the course’s lessons about moral philosophy will continue to guide my work in the future, be it in the field of housing or beyond.
Sally Chen, Class of 2019
I had never known how gratifying it could be to see the tangible impact of public service work until I began volunteering with PBHA Chinatown Citizenship. As I became more involved and began directing the organization, I quickly realized that any future career I might want to pursue would be related to public service. However, I felt an uncomfortable tension between the work I hoped to do after graduation and my academics, which did not directly relate to or support my interest in public service. Taking Professor Newendorp’s Engaged Scholarship course on the Chinese Immigrant Experience in America filled this gap in my education, tying together rigorous academic study on community history with focused reflection on our responsibility as service providers, pushing me to become much more thoughtful about my own impact. This course also helped me to explore the local landscape of community-based organizations and nonprofits, introducing me to a wide range of opportunities for intersectional and interdisciplinary work that I had never considered before. The following summer, I had the opportunity to build on these skills with the Harvard College-Mindich Program in Community-Engaged Research with Professor Light, researching intersectional violence and precarity in communities of color through both qualitative and quantitative methods. I gained invaluable first-hand experience working with real constituents and organizations, experience that I will continuously draw upon in my future career.
Emelia Vigil, Class of 2018
Harvard is an institution wherein students are encouraged to engage critically and liberally with myriad academic disciplines. While there are certainly benefits to a hyper-academic approach to learning, one pitfall is in the lack of hands-on engagement with the material about which students are learning. The engaged scholarship courses challenge students to integrate theory with practice, creating an environment for students to develop as academics and professionals. As a student minoring in Global Health and Health Policy, I sought opportunities that allowed me to incorporate traditional methods of classroom learning with immersive field experience. When I found the course, Urban Health and Community Change: Planning Action with Local Stakeholders, I was enlightened as to the opportunity for local community engagement. By working in Somerville I met truly inspiring people doing valuable work toward food security in the area, many of whom I still volunteer alongside. From connecting families with government resources to being invited to community member’s homes, my academic and personal lives were enriched through my experience with the Mindich Program. The program and faculty within have given students, including myself, meaningful opportunities to move beyond the Harvard bubble and not only learn about but also contribute to the world beyond.
Yasmin Issari, Class of 2016
Our education is directly linked to us wanting to make a positive impact in this world. In SOC-STD 68EC: Education and Community in America we often discussed John Dewey’s perspectives on education. How he believed that to learn, we must do. But how he also believed that to learn, we must reflect on our doing. Through service work I have learned by doing, learned how to work with young people, manage a staff, form community partnerships, and turn a vision into a structured program. Through reflection on this doing I have started to think more critically about youth power and voices, structural issues impacting local communities, methods for creating change, and how I hope to dedicate my life to this work. This class provided a space for reflection on service: we used our experiences with our service programs to put John Dewey’s philosophies into context, critique them, as well as critique ourselves and our service work. The class was a space that combined the different facets of my college life and brought together the usually separate worlds of academics and public service for a holistic learning experience. To know that Harvard is prioritizing the public service field, providing students with the financial and institutional support to grow and learn as they follow their ambitions to address society’s most pressing issues, is empowering.
Andrew Clark, Director of Choral Activities, Sr. Lecturer in Music
Implementing an Engaged Scholarship approach to teaching proved to be a profoundly fruitful and transformational experience, opening up new possibilities for inquiry and holistic learning. Students enrolled in Music 176r (Music and Disability) invested a significant amount of time participating in various service organizations providing inclusive music programs for individuals with disabilities. Rather than performing service, research, or ethnography, our students simply made music in these unfamiliar and unconventional contexts in ways that made the course’s rigorous intellectual content come alive. The experience of Engaged Scholarship challenged, shaped, and affirmed our values, prompting important questions and catalyzing creative interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary explorations. Putting theory into practice through building meaningful relationships and experiences in the community reflected back in the students’ work in the classroom, translating to a deeper understanding and greater passion for the subject matter.
Alan Yang, Class of 2018
Music 176r: Music and Disability was an opportunity for me to bridge the realms of scholarship and service, and to use that bridge as a platform for contemplating my own work with MIHNUET, a student organization dedicated to building positive relationships between Harvard undergraduates and elderly residents at local nursing homes through music performances. In particular, the theories and models we learned in class helped me frame my work with MIHNUET and think about the ways in which MIHNUET can better serve the elderly. At the same time, I was able to bring my weekend experiences with MIHNUET directly in conversation with the ideas and readings we were discussing in the classroom. These conversations then became the raw material and inspiration for a new initiative I developed for MIHNUET as my final project in the class. Through this initiative, MIHNUET members will not just perform music for the elderly, they will perform with the elderly through sing-a-longs. This initiative will allow MIHNUET to build more intimate relationships with the elderly and to offer the elderly a chance to exercise creative and artistic expression—something they do not usually have a chance to do. Without Music 176r, this initiative would never have happened.
Music 176r was also an opportunity for me to raise big questions. It challenged me to think carefully about the role of music in people’s lives, how people’s experiences of music are structured by societal norms and assumptions, and how participation in cultural life is restricted for certain people. In doing so, it also gave me the chance to engage deeply in critical self-reflection. Indeed, the readings and guest lectures gave me new perspectives through which to examine the role of MIHNUET in the community as both a service and a music organization.
Looking forward, Music 176r has inspired me to think about how my future work as a researcher or scholar and my engagement with the world as a human being can continue to shape each other for the rest of my life. It showed me how my curiosity for understanding the world around me can strengthen and be strengthened by my passion for making the very same world a better place.
Nicole Newendorp, Lecturer and Assistant Director of Studies in Social Studies
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed teaching a class as much as I enjoyed teaching Social Studies 68ct: “The Chinese Immigrant Experience in America.” I’ve been doing ethnographic research in Cantonese among low-income Chinese migrant populations in Hong Kong and the greater Boston area for almost 20 years, so teaching this class felt like a natural extension of my own fieldwork. Even so, my students’ enthusiasm took me by surprise. The pairing of service and academics clearly worked in important was to more fully engage students in both endeavors, and my own sense of purpose in teaching was magnified by my students’ sense of purpose in learning. It was particularly exciting to hear students taking ideas we had talked about in class, reflecting on the value of those ideas in relation to their service, and further committing to improve their service work given their new knowledge. Here are some sample quotes from the students’ course evaluations:
This course made me more passionate about the importance of my service work because it provided the social and historical context for my service work.
This has been my favorite course of my four years at Harvard and it has fundamentally changed the way I view my own identity as a Chinese American.
It was fascinating to see elements from my service experience appear in the class materials. Exploring the context of my service in an academic context was personally meaningful and validating. I always felt that what I was learning was extremely relevant to the larger, “real” world beyond Harvard.
Pairing service work with the academic content made it very clear to me why the academic work is important. It is easy to get lost in the weeds of theory and history without knowing how it affects those that the theory is supposed to affect. This class puts all of that in the context of the service constituents.
Chinatown seems to be a more rich and textured place after this class. After the class, I have a basic understanding of the key events in Chinatown's history, and I now see myself as having a stake in what happens there.