Community engagement is an essential component of the American Studies major, including a required seminar, “Where Theory Meets Practice,” in the junior year.

This Seminar will provide a community-based experience focused on racial inequality in the public school and criminal justice systems in the Twin Cities. To prepare for engagement with the community, students will study and discuss books, articles, and films on schools, prisons, and racial inequality in the United States by authors such as Jonathan Kozol, Angela Davis, Joy James, and Leonard Peltier. Monday evening classes will provide time to discuss, reflect, and theorize about our interactions with the community. Special attention will be given to the complex questions raised by the politics of “service-learning” and by our presence as scholar/researchers in the community.

During the week, students will participate in real-world problem-solving through an internship in one of four off-campus settings: a mainstream school, an alternative school, a correctional facility, and a transitional program for offenders. Students will work in teams with community organizations on projects designed in collaboration with this seminar. The degree of “hands-on” experience obtained by each student will differ across these settings according to the issues involved and the goals and mission of the supervising organization. Tuesday afternoon lab times will be devoted to guest lectures, field trips, or meetings with internship supervisors.

This seminar is required of all American Studies majors declared after May 2005, and it is open to declared majors in any department who have taken at least one American Studies course.

Previous Community Engagement Courses

Through her involvement with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA), Duchess Harris spent sixteen days in January 2003 traveling throughout the southern United States teaching about the civil rights movement at many crucial historical sites including Greensboro, North Carolina and the Highlander School in Kentucky. HECUA is a consortium of sixteen colleges and universities that provide off-campus study programs, many of them in the United States. The course treated theory and practice as interrelated concepts and required the students to work closely with social justice practitioners. Professor Harris asked the students to think of the history and consequences of the civil rights movement and to think of themselves as citizen learners and actors upon history.

During the summers of 2001, 2002, and 2003, Karin Aguilar-San Juan took students from Macalester College and St. Cloud State University to Detroit for two weeks to participate in Detroit Summer, a grassroots initiative to rebuild the city from the ground up. Her Detroit project is an action-research collaboration with Tracy E. Ore, a sociologist at St. Cloud State University. During spring 2004, they provided an independent study seminar on Detroit for students at Macalester and also at St. Cloud State University in preparation for summer 2004. Detroit serves as one of the sites for Aguilar-San Juan’s research project on youth, race, and democracy which she is conducting with the support of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.

Urban Faculty Summer Seminar

The two-week Urban Faculty Seminar will include two components: 1) a seminar designed by a Macalester team in collaboration with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA); and 2) an independent project through which faculty develop knowledge, skills and/or partnerships to be used in teaching, advising or student-engaged research. For example, a mathematics professor might work with successful math teachers from North High School in Minneapolis to understand how his own teaching might be more inclusive. A psychologist might interview police responding to charges of racial profiling and then use these interviews as the basis for case studies in his social psychology class. Or a visual anthropologist might work with a community photographer to establish internship opportunities for her students.

The Department of American Studies encourages students to seek out internship opportunities in the Twin Cities that provide appropriate off-campus learning experiences.