Hamline News

Brining it all Back Home

bring home article


Whether they’re touring the Midway neighborhood on a cold January day, or hitting the streets at their community internships, eight undergraduate students are taking their skills to the neighborhood this spring, helping community organizations and neighbors recognize, highlight, and tackle issues of social justice.

The students are part of a two-part course sequence, “Special Topics: Issues in Urban Redevelopment: Bringing It All Back Home,” which focuses on the $920 million Central Corridor light-rail project. Due to begin construction in 2010, the eleven-mile route will serve as an interurban connector between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul, intersecting neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and running much of the length of University Avenue in Saint Paul.

“The premise of the course sequence is that even with the best intentions, major urban redevelopment projects necessarily highlight inequalities of power, access, and resources,” said religion professor and chair of the social justice program Earl Schwartz, who is teaching the course along with other Hamline faculty and community members.

The sequence takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the nature of a major urban redevelopment project, with a particular eye to social justice. In the second part of the course, the students will pursue internships at related community organizations.

“We’re really doing it,” said senior social justice major Maria Ortiz. “We’re really out there getting our hands dirty... That’s what I love about it.” Ortiz will participate in an internship at the Latino Communications Network in the spring. She will team up with a Latino press reporter to develop her writing skills and report on urban redevelopment issues confronting the local Hispanic community. Other internships focus on topics such as housing issues and environmental studies.

The course sequence has attracted a wide variety of students from different majors and backgrounds, perhaps in part due to its interdisciplinary nature.

“We placed a priority on finding students who could bring language and culture competencies to the course,” said Schwartz. “We really do have an enormous array of skills, knowledge, and opportunities we hope to utilize in service to the larger community.”

Much like the light-rail project itself, plans for the class have long been in progress. Creating the course and its curriculum has been a two-year endeavor. Additional funds from a Race, Gender, and Beyond grant and from the Bill and Kay Erickson Endowment for Social Justice made the class possible. The course incorporates a variety of viewpoints from seven different instructors and community members involved with the light-rail project, including Donna Drummond, the senior planner of the Central Corridor Project, Sharon Jaffe, the coordinator of Hamline’s Office of Service Learning and Volunteerism, and Brian McMahon, the director of University United, a coalition of businesses and citizens in the Midway area.

“Through the internships, I hope the students find mentors and models that inspire them, and energize Hamline in its relationships with its neighbors,” Schwartz said. “We’re eager to make this course a bridge between Hamline and its neighbors.”

by Maura Youngman