What are the implications of the Hurricane Sandy events on community-campus partnerships—most specifically with regard to service-learning? How can faculty members best use the tool of reflection to make sense of Hurricane Sandy during this first week back on campus? What are considerations for each of the constituencies (e.g. students, community partners and faculty members) related to traditional service-learning course operations? What should NYC college students learn from this event, in the context of the various academic disciplines?
This week, as we continue to stagger back to work and school in a blur, it occurs to me that there may be a plethora of different responses to Hurricane Sandy as unique as our own bio-psycho-social imprints. In other words, the way in which we each individually respond to and recover from this event are related to our individual circumstances with regard to social support, pre-existing stress levels, coping tactics, access to information, education and health care and overall personality. As service-learning practitioners, we have a distinct opportunity to leverage this teachable moment for social change, but how? When? What factors should be considered? I am curious about how are service-learning professionals and practitioners across the NYC region planning to handle this return to normalcy. How are you talking with students about Hurricane Sandy?
For starters, the state of NYC citizens is still very uneven across the boroughs. Local campuses and public schools are transitioning from serving as emergency shelters to places of learning—many facilities are still without heat and water. Mass transit is getting back on its feet while gas shortages persist and many students and college staff are just getting the power back on at home. Many ad hoc relief efforts across the region are thwarted, not due to a lack of generosity, but lack of transportation to distribute collected goods and donations. As the lights begin to turn back on in NYC, my concern is that we might forget those that are still in the dark…
An executive from a community organization, active in Sandy relief efforts urges everyone to stay engaged. Please take a moment to read this excerpt below from a message posted by Helena Wong, the Executive Director of CAAAV, to the organization’s website on Sunday, November 4th, 2012:
This crisis is far from over and the long-term cleanup has barely begun. Tomorrow schools will re-open, most jobs will require people to go back to work, and people will solely focus on Tuesday’s elections. This is not the time to get back to life before Sandy. For many of our fellow New Yorkers, their lives have fundamentally changed. Their cleanup is our cleanup. It is our responsibility to make sure that when the next disaster strikes (and there will be more), we have made the choices as a City to 1) ensure equality in distribution of services, 2) push for infrastructure rebuilding that is not bigger and better but that considers the new world we live in around climate change, and 3) build political power based on values of collective well-being and fairness. (To read the full post, click here.)
As Helena keenly observes, controversial policy issues and questions continue to emerge in the wake of Sandy’s wrath. The range of issues the country must grapple with is almost overwhelming, but this crisis can still serve as a catalyst to engage students in in-depth discussions on everything from the appropriate role of government and use of public resources and infrastructure planning and development to the above mentioned growing concern about climate change to science, to disaster preparedness. In light of the urgency of this situation, how do we reconcile the bureaucracy of higher education timetables with real-time needs of next-door neighbors and expedite services? How do we make use of large-scale student resources and labor while remaining mindful of the student and staff individual needs while also asking resources of them that would aid relief efforts? How do we balance the need for urgency against the need for sustainability and equitable support over time, as it is clear, this devastation will be felt in our communities for quite some time as families work to get clothing, food, housing and ultimately, a sense of safety once again.
Service-Learning Related Issues Presented by Hurricane Sandy
In many service-learning projects, Hurricane Sandy only exacerbates community problems, such as hunger, poverty and homelessness that students were already previously working to address. In these cases, students may be feeling a renewed sense of urgency and solidarity surrounding their projects. These students need guidance to maintain a balanced approach to sustain their efforts through the course of the semester. Other students are concerned about the pressure they face from falling behind in general academic coursework and may enter a kind of self-preservation mode; they will need reassurance that they still have a fair chance to move through the course successfully.
For Partnering Community Organizations
Already overextend partners may not be able to answer phones and provide the guidance and supervision they were able to prior to the storm. Some partners may find themselves increasingly in the spotlight and in receipt of overflowing donations and others in the shadows. Many have taken to online communications and grassroots organization to get the word out about what needs have been met and which ones go unfulfilled. Long-term partnerships may be temporarily upended as partners secure facilities.
For Faculty & S-L Practitioners
Faculty members will undoubtedly find themselves having to improvise the most, in one way or another. Students are trickling in from across the boroughs. Demands are The event presents opportunities to make direct connections to the course content and implications for their professional fields and disciplines, particularly in the areas of sustainability, urban planning, architecture, mental health, sociology, etc. How can we best use this moment to address larger policy concerns and systemic public issues?
In other cases, the course content and service projects at hand may not be so closely aligned with the event and that gap may present a certain sense of awkwardness as faculty seek to build back momentum for the duration of the semester. Some faculty may find themselves struggling to catch up to stay on track with covering course curriculum while remaining sensitive to students’ desires to talk about this. Service projects may be derailed as some organizations have shut down operations, be running low on staff, or shifted focus.
Faculty members may want to consider allowing some time for a discussion in the next week or so using the Focused Conversation Method (Source: The Art of Focused Conversation by Canada’s Institute for Cultural Affairs).
The questions below were adapted from this method and can be found on page 8 of the guide, Engaging All Partners in Reflection by Kathleen Rice, Ph.D. Click here to view the full guide.
- Imagine you were a video camera recording what you saw happening that day. What actions, words, phrases, objects, and scenes are recorded on your tape? Let’s get everything out so we all have a full picture of what happened.
- What has happened since?
- What shocked you?
- What was most frightening?
- What made you want to escape?
- How else did you find yourself reacting? Were you disappointed? Angry? Sad?
- What are all the things you think lead up to this event?
- What might have been some other contributing factors?
- What impact does it have on you?
- How are you different now?
- How might we be different a year from now?
- What can we learn from this?
- What can we do to prevent this from happening again?
- Who else do you need to see or talk with?
- What can we do to help each other now?
- What can we do to symbolize how we changed or what we have learned?
Please stay in touch with us and let us know how you are dealing with the transition back to work so we can continue to compile best practices for the network!