Courage and Social Justice: History Students “Walk the Walk” and Engage New York's Immigrant and Refugee Communities

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 9:10 AM
Room 101 (Hynes Convention Center)
Lori R. Weintrob , Wagner College, Staten Island, NY
Patricia Moynagh , Wagner College, Staten Island, NY
History offers abundant evidence of the interconnectedness of courage and civic activism, from the Atlantic Revolutions to the Holocaust.  Whether tutoring refugees in a course on imperialism, planting community gardens in a course on leadership, or teaching local African-American history in a course on public history, student engagement in the community brings new insight to the reading of historical texts on social justice. 

Wagner College adopted a curriculum in 1997 focused on experiential learning.  The requirement to use field trips or service in individual courses evolved by 2007 into a program in which select academic departments partner with a single agency or neighborhood to benefit disadvantaged youth.  The History Department, for a decade at the forefront of teaching civic engagement to first year students, took up the challenge to integrate service-learning across our discipline.  In recognition, the History Department recently won the designation of “most engaged department” at Wagner College. 

Our involvement with Project Pericles challenged us to rethink service partnerships with the community in terms of public policy.  This paper compares an honors history course on leadership and human rights, taught as part of a grant from Project Pericles, to other civic engagement courses in history.  Our department participates in a partnership teaching local history and the arts at P.S. 57, a Title One elementary school.  However, in this course, students went outside the school into government-financed housing projects to interview youth and community leaders and work jointly with grassroots groups on projects of their own design.  Students had to struggle in the classroom with texts on civil and human rights leaders and juxtapose these to their own experiences crossing boundaries.  Despite logistical challenges, our students’ task to advance historical inquiry, and to understand the interconnectedness of courage and critical thinking in civic action, benefits from civic engagement projects.

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