Instructor: Sherry Cable
Authored by Dr. Lisa Fall, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations and Noah Mayhew, Senior in Public Relations
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” (President John F Robert Kennedy). This is the quote students find on the first page of their Sociology 495 syllabus. What a powerful way to illustrate what they will learn in their Social Justice and Community Service class.
But this course, like other UT Service Learning courses, is not just about learning; it is also about giving back to the community. The curriculum is divided into three parts: studying relevant sociological concepts, working in the field community to use those concepts in real-world applications, and reflecting on their overall class experiences.
The class works with a community partner each semester so that the students as well as the organization benefit reciprocally. For the spring 2014 semester, the class is working with Redeeming Hope Ministries, which works to feed and promote nutrition among the homeless of Knoxville. However, Professor Sherry Cable explains that it is not quite that simple: “The idea, the philosophy, is to encourage students to instead of inequalities, to think of it in terms of privilege and the unequal distribution of privilege,” said Cable.
“And further, that just the fact that they’re sitting in classrooms at a university like UT is an indication that they are relatively privileged in this country – in a country this wealthy, in a country that is supposed to be democratic. Then, recognizing your own privilege means that helping in underserved communities is not charity. It’s responsibility of a democratic citizen to recognize her own privilege and the obligations that go with that privilege. So, with that view of themselves, that’s one of the big things they take into the service learning part.”
Students spend their time in the field as volunteers and also as researchers, having already been prepared to use sociological tools to analyze and draw conclusions about what they observe. For example, students are not working with Redeeming Hope Ministries to understand how to feed the homeless, explained Cable. Instead, they are working with the community partner to facilitate an understanding as to why homelessness is such a problem nationwide.
As with any service-learning course, reflection is a key component in sociology 495. “A service learning course is a very active course,” said Cable. “Everything about it is dynamic and fluid. All of the tests are set up so that students write up a summary and reflection essay. The summary part is straightforward – consisting of what we did, classroom assignments and what the readings were about. The reflection part is partly how they’re reacting to the things they’re learning, but also practicing with the concepts so that they’re reflecting — but in sociological terms.”
“The course is important because, when it works right, students are transformed as they recognize the connection between privilege and responsibility and at the same time feel empowered to work for change. It’s also important because it’s a way of improving the community,” Cable explained. Just by yourself you can change the world. By walking through the world differently than others do, the world is changed and that knowledge that students get is really empowering. They see that they can work for social change all their lives and may not see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”