By Jordan Cochran
At Reinhardt University, first-year students often learn the importance of service-learning through hours of volunteering. With the onset of COVID restrictions this year, students learned a new approach to serving others.
This semester’s First-Year Seminar students participated in “Effecting Change: A Call-to-Action Service-Learning Project.” During the six-week project, students conducted a “call-to-action,” or a solicitation for someone to change their behavior in a way that benefits their community. It involved researching, writing a proposal, conducting the call-to-action and creating a presentation to outline the project.
“When creating this project, Dr. Walter May and I were searching for a way for our students to connect to the campus and to the community in meaningful ways,” said Lydia Laucella, assistant director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Engaged Learning. “This was particularly important to us because we knew of how COVID has impacted the academic and social experiences of our incoming freshmen class. We thought it was important to give our students some agency in getting involved on campus.”
Students researched and developed ways to support various social justice issues, from racial equality and climate change, to affordable healthcare and voting rights.
“We asked our FYS students to conduct their own call-to-actions. They chose a social justice cause that they were passionate about and then decided how they would act on it,” said Laucella. “Would it be just to spread awareness about the issue, or would it be to raise money for a special cause, or would it be to start an organization? Regardless of what students decided, they were given full liberty to take the project as far as they wanted to; the sky was truly the limit for our students.”
Some of the projects completed by first-year students included:
- Spreading awareness on campus about sex trafficking
- Raising money for the wildfires in Oregon
- Creating a safe-space blog to discuss their feelings
- Reinstating the LGBTQ+ Alliance on the Reinhardt campus
- Raising money for and spreading awareness about premature infants
- Raising money for food insecurity cause by COVID
- Spreading awareness about animal shelters
- Making a charitable donation to a local theatre company in need
- Creating a letter drive on campus to support out troops all year round, not just during the holidays
- Spreading awareness about the Lutzie 43 Foundation
- Spreading awareness about suicide prevention by creating custom t-shirts for FYS students
- Reinstating the campus recycling program
- Creating the RU Mental Health Rocks (painted rocks with positive messages posted around campus)
Last year, Reinhardt’s First-Year Seminar students completed more than 3,500 hours of community service with Junior Achievement, Rise Against Hunger and the Foundation for Hospital Art. Service-learning is incorporated into Reinhardt’s FYS curriculum to give students a foundation of service as they begin their college careers. This year’s project enabled students to serve in a broad, creative capacity.
“The [Effecting] Change project is allowing our students to focus on social justice issues locally, regionally and nationally,” said May, dean of students. “Social justice is the assertion of the ideal that all humans should have the same rights and opportunities. From access to healthcare to safe spaces to live, social justice aims to level the playing field and eliminate discrimination. Different social justice issues come to the forefront at different times, and certain issues might be more relevant across different countries, societies, cultures, cities and even neighborhoods. Social justice issues affect people’s access to different types of goods, services and opportunities.”
The project became a campus-wide effort as students connected with Student Affairs, faculty and staff members for their projects to come to fruition.
“We are proud of the Class of 2024 as they are already carving out their own paths at Reinhardt University,” Laucella said.