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Social Responsibility & Intercultural Understanding
Informing Our Community-Based Education

Alan JonesThe faculty at Pitzer College have a long, and now well-recognized, tradition of developing and utilizing community-based pedagogy in their curricular offerings. This tradition emerges from deep intellectual commitments reflected in the College’s educational objectives. Two of these objectives, social responsibility and intercultural understanding, directly inform the practice of community-based education at Pitzer. It is a goal of the College to educate students not only to be thoughtful, accomplished professionals in their chosen fields of endeavor but to be effective and engaged citizens of the local and global communities that they are inheriting.

The College’s thinking about and practice of community-based pedagogy have evolved over the years, in part facilitated by the establishment of institutional support in the form of our Center for California Cultural and Social Issues (CCCSI) and the Pitzer in Ontario program. A consensus has emerged that, consistent with our institutional ethos, the character of Pitzer’s community-based programs would be one of reciprocity and responsible community membership. The two distinct pedagogical models embedded in the work of the CCCSI and the Pitzer in Ontario program respectively, represent conscious attempts to transcend the limitations of traditional service learning models and to position the institution itself as a model of responsible community membership.

In the Pitzer in Ontario model, students essentially move into the community of Ontario for the semester. They take all of their classes and also complete a 20-hour per week internship at a municipal or nonprofit agency in the city. The experience itself is extraordinarily interdisciplinary with study topics ranging from urban toxicology to demographic analysis, to the formal and informal political landscape of the city, to ethnicity and immigration to the history of the city’s economic development. The focal point for all of these discussions is the city of Ontario itself and the immediate community in which the students are engaged. By modeling responsible community membership and providing students with the critical skills necessary to effectively engage in the community as citizens, the program is drawing on the finest traditions of a liberal arts education.

The CCCSI model is designed to remove another significant barrier to effective community-college partnerships, the academic calendar. It is almost universal practice that academic institutions construct service learning projects in semester-length packages. In the CCCSI core partnership model, a faculty member agrees to be liaison to a community-based partner organization for a period of no less than four years. The task of the faculty member and the CCCSI staff is to map out a continuum of educationally meaningful student projects carried out through a combination of semester-length student projects and intensive, CCCSI-sponsored summer internships, that move the partner organization toward a realization of its institutional goals.

Thus, although individual students may rotate into and out of a particular partnership project, the continuity and integrity of the project itself is maintained. Again, the character of this institutional commitment models for students exactly the kind of deep, effective and enduring engagement in community that we feel is incumbent on them as individuals to make to their communities as members of a free society.

—Alan Jones, dean of faculty



Alan Jones