Workshops Educate Students on the Meaning of Community

October 5, 2003

Paula Eichenbrenner, <i>Hullabaloo</i> staff writer

Approximately 300 individuals from the Tulane community came together to participate in a series of workshops to acclimate them to New Orleans' community service. The sessions, held Sept. 20, 24 and 27, centered on discussion and experiential learning about the dynamics of race, class, power and poverty that directly affect community service work in New Orleans.

Attendees chose one of two tracks, depending on the general purpose of their community work. Volunteers involved in programs with children or schools registered for the "education" option and spent the day discussing issues such as youth culture in New Orleans. The second choice was a more general "community" track that incorporated themes such as the history and context of being a Tulane student and how that is interpreted in different New Orleans communities.

Session leaders included administrators from local middle schools, Loyola University Upward Bound, the Loyola University Community Action Program and the People's Institute. The race, class and community training has evolved considerably since it was first held in February of 2001.

The training began as the result of the organizing work of the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students and Students Organized Against Racism, which sponsors the People's Institute for Undoing Racism Workshops. CACTUS students came together with staff from the Office of Service Learning in an effort to bring greater community accountability to their programs and to better align the community efforts with work for social justice.

Hamilton Simons-Jones, director of Community Services Coordination, said the training is valuable "because we really look at the underlying issues and root causes of the stuff we try to address every day through community service and service learning. To have such an organized discussion that focuses on race, class, culture, power and service or 'helping' is so powerful and, unfortunately, rare. Our training is unique and a model for other institutions."

The training, based on the concept that good intentions alone are insufficient, encourages students and organizations to adapt an anti-racist approach in their community work. The goals of the program are several: to give students a contextual understanding of New Orleans, Tulane and their community involvement; to challenge students with the limits of their perspectives; and to offer students concrete strategies and tips to improve their community work.

Newcomb College senior Lexie Cervenka said, "I definitely gained a better understanding of community relations here in New Orleans, and it opened my eyes to how important all of the volunteering work we do is ' both on campus and in the community."

The goals of the race, class and community workshops are further developed in this semester's People's Institute Undoing Racism Workshop, sponsored by SOAR. The workshop is scheduled for Nov. 7 through 9.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000