Bursting the Bubble: The Community-Based Learning Office

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“When I see an SLCA on Van Meter now it’s just so wonderful. It feels more like a collective.” Photo Credit: Gary Pritchett

On the second floor of the Van Meter building, in a little space supplied with lots of food and coffee, Cass Freedland and Lindsay Johnson work together to run Goucher’s Community Based Learning (CBL) office. Santa Marie Wallace and Emily Abramson assist them, ensuring that the wheels run smoothly. In Cass’s words, as “a resource to the campus in helping bridge the campus and community with mutual respect, thoughtfulness, and an ethical perspective,” the office currently promotes 12 active programs, as well as CBL component courses engaging both federal work study students and volunteers.
“Goucher has always been on the cutting edge of community based practice. It used to be called service learning. There was a wonderful first director, Carol Weinberg, who, back in the 90s, said that it was something marvelous for Goucher and she brought together faculty and community partners to push forward with the work,” Cass recounts. In 2011, Goucher decided to focus more on that community-based work and to create a staff position under the academic provost. The new France-Merrick Director of Community Based Learning, Cass left Wagner College in Staten Island, New York to come to Goucher in the fall of 2012.
She joined Lindsay, ‘05, ‘13, already deeply involved in the office, who restructured CBL and conceptualized Student Leaders for Civic Action (SLCA)- students who lead each individual program and coordinate directly with their respective community partners. Four such students were David Hills,  ‘17, Deanna Galer, ‘17,  Lila Stenson,  ‘17, and Hadley Sternberg, ‘19. “When I see an SLCA on Van Meter now it’s just so wonderful. It feels more like a collective; you don’t feel as separated from the other programs,” David said of the group. Hadley had a similar description. “We’re really energized. There’s a lot of passion and compassion, feelings and empathy; [we’re] really grounded, like sincere I think, and positive, connected.” “I think it’s cool ‘cuz we’re all different people, but we’re all very committed to our programs so we have that common goal,” Lila Stenson added.
It is not uncommon for SLCAs to see the programs that they lead grow, morph, and change with time. Every spring, CBL staff sit down and analyze the programs to improve and reshape them. Deanna interned in the office. “Our student leaders put some of their character into [their programs] and help to shape and mold [them],” she explained. David Hills and Emma Minkoff’s formerly in-existence Be HERD (Helpful Expression and Responsible Development) program, while still based around theater, changed greatly from how they had conceptualized it. David elaborated, “It initially was about exploring emotion, but now is about being okay with being silly.”
New leadership and political, social, and economic changes in the community also affect the function and structure of each program. “A $1,000 cut per student was announced last week,” Deanna said when interviewed last semester. She and Hannah Painter co-directed Middle School Mentoring. “That takes away all of their resource curriculum. So we then use our program to best supplement what the community is already offering.”
“Flexibility, I think, is something that every SLCA has”, David explained. “And enthusiasm!” Deanna added. Laughing, she snapped her fingers. “Cuz you just gotta do it!”
Despite challenges and changes to the programs, SLCAs and CBL volunteers consistently form meaningful relationships with community partners and community members. David recalled, “One of the boys that I had for Read a Story Write a Story, when I was a sophomore, I was working at the Cinemark and he and his dad came in and he was like ‘Oh hey, how are you?’’’
“It’s really great to be able to interact with the kids, and be able to get to know them, and hear about things that are happening in their lives” Lila said. She and Emily Abramson were co-directors of the Armistead Gardens program. She admitted that forming relationships isn’t always easy, but said that “giving it time definitely helps. I think for the kids at Armistead, just that we were gonna be there every week, that we were remembering, that really means a lot to them.”
Even programs that don’t necessarily involve working with people can lead to unexpected community interactions. “Sometimes we see the old people hanging out. They like to watch us work,” Hadley highlights from her vine removal adventures near a retirement facility. Hadley co-directed the Environmental Initiative with Clara Feigelson.
CBL is hard work. Deanna described some of the challenges. “There’s a lot of moving parts. If a van is going down, if a person is sick, if materials don’t show…” In Hadley’s words, “It’s kind of chaotic if you think about it.” But the hard work pays off in big ways.
As Cass put it, CBL is as much an office as it is a way of living and thinking and engaging with the world. SLCAs learn “skills such as listening before necessarily responding, of learning what others are thinking, sort of humbly really thinking about what people are telling us, and then taking the next step to better understanding towards what they’re saying.” As a result, CBL teaches how to work with the community rather than working on it. For SLCAs, building symbiotic relationships outside of Goucher has allowed them to reflect on their own identities and their role as leaders in community outreach.
“I never felt like [the CBL community] was condescending. You’re allowed to make mistakes without feeling bad. Which is what I think a lot of Goucher students don’t know how to do,” David said. “I learned to recognize that my sexuality doesn’t negate my privilege. I grew up surrounded by so much whiteness, so it was easy for me to say, ‘well I’m a gay man surrounded by straight people.’” Deanna nodded her head and chimed in. “From the get-go it helped me learn a lot about Baltimore, especially how power and privilege work, especially in regards to race. We’re a predominantly white institution working with a predominantly black community. I was in a very charity based mindset in high school, and that has a purpose, but when dealing with power and privilege it can’t just be band-aid solution, it has to work at the roots.”
“I think just being able to get involved in a community off campus and making that commitment every week, just in terms of thinking about after college and what’s important to me… it’s made my Goucher experience much more meaningful, about something else rather than being just stuck at Goucher in my own academics and everything.” Lila said. Hadley similarly saw how CBL’s impact extends beyond its own staff. “A quote I like is that ‘everything is connected.’ We’re just like people and we all affect each-other. Social justice is a big component of our office, and so like, race and privilege and ability and sexuality, and just like all of those identifying intersectionalities of what makes us what we are,” she said “We’re just this little tiny office with coffee and cookies but at the end of the day, it is also so much more.”

Olivia Baud, a Junior at Goucher double-majoring in Spanish and International Relations, joined Quindecim in the spring of 2017 as a writer and now serves as Quindecim's Features Editor. The interviews she conducted for a competition called National History Day led her to develop a passion for journalism, both in written, visual, and audio format. She aspires to strengthen the Goucher campus community by drawing attention to the unique stories of students, staff, and faculty. When she is not working on her next story, you will likely find her in the apiary tending to the honeybees, getting ripped at the local climbing gym, or at her computer stressing over email etiquette.

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