As a Community-Based Learning (CBL) student, I’ve encountered many challenges in my projects. Whether making course connections or struggling to understand social injustices, students who take CBL will invariably run into some bumps along the road.
I asked the interviewees to discuss challenges they’ve faced as CBL students and interns:
The responses tended toward two poles: logistical complications and difficulty accepting harsh realities in the world. Annie W. in particular recalled working with an autistic student who was failing “because the system had failed him.” As many of them mentioned in a similar vein in their discussion on interacting with course materials, reading theories about injustice or poverty is one thing. Actually seeing how these theories play out in the real world is quite another.
The logistical complications often can’t be helped. Things don’t always work out as planned. Transportation fails, paperwork is lost, miscommunications happen. But I have also experienced difficulty in processing the difficult truths confronting me. Theoretically speaking, I doubt anyone would contest that the world can be an unfair place. But knowing this and seeing the kind and beautiful people whose lives are affected by the world’s injustices are two very different things.
Sometimes, the harsh realities that confront students in their projects and at their placement sites don’t correlate as well with course materials. In my work with Let’s Get Ready (LGR), the kinds of social issues that cropped up didn’t always seem like they related to my Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course. For my Digital Writing class’s CBL project, my work with the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA) was geared more toward crafting an experience in a professional atmosphere than discussing the issues each nonprofit organization dealt with.
In class, we discussed our projects from a technical standpoint. We talked about different projects we were working on (other project sites included Jericho Road and Worcester Public Schools Transition Program), but never about the social problems these sites sought to treat. Talking with my site director and reading SMA materials, I began to notice more profoundly how unfair history has been to sexual minorities and other people who diverge from a perceived “norm.” This realization has been quite a troubling one, and it has been a challenge processing it on my own.
Though for Annie W. the classroom was a place for her to unpack her challenging experience, for me, feeling I don’t have a place to do so has been the challenge. The Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning at Holy Cross does provide a few opportunities to reflect on CBL experiences each semester. For anyone facing a similar challenge in their CBL class, I recommend taking full advantage of these reflection sessions. In my experience, though, these three, hour-long sessions are often not sufficient; I find myself hungry still for deeper and deeper conversation.
As a CBL Intern, I have the unique opportunity of taking a course next semester taught by the Director of the CBL Office here, Michelle. I’m looking forward to this class because I know it will provide the space for understanding and unpacking the disorienting experiences I’ve had confronting social injustice. Further, next year I am hoping to be more proactive about connecting with my fellow CBL Interns and fostering deeper discussion.