Community Learning Faculty Fellows (CLIFF) Workshop: Community Partnerships and Perspective-Building Teaching

Over the last few months, Trinity faculty members Leah Cassorla, Elise Castillo, Rachel Moskowitz, Ibrahim Shikaki, and Lynn Sullivan have been working closely together with Director of Community Learning Megan Faver Hartline and CHER Director Jack Dougherty in the Community Learning Faculty Fellows program. This is the second year of the CLiFF program, which was created to support newer faculty in developing Community Learning components for their new or existing courses.

At the start of this six-workshop series, Megan and Jack introduced the group to key components of Community Learning at Trinity, which include experiential learning, collaborative partnerships, and perspective-building relationships. Instead of finding problems to fix in Hartford, faculty are encouraged to engage in mutually-beneficial  partnerships that engage the community as a source of expertise. The workshops also acknowledge the strengths and limitations of course-based partnerships through readings such as Paula Mathieu’s “Students in the Streets” chapter in Tactics of Hope (2010), and Hartline & Dougherty’s Op-Ed “Your Dean Favors Experiential Liberal Arts: Now What?” (2019). The Fellows also learn how other Trinity faculty have designed Community Learning course partnerships, along with sample writing assignments, group work contracts, and evaluation rubrics (see “Diversity in the City with Professor Abigail Fisher Williamson” and “Hip Hop, Hartford, and the Power of Digital Storytelling with Professor Seth Markle”). 

During subsequent CLiFF meetings, each Fellow proposes ideas for their course and receives feedback from a discussant and the group. The first round of feedback focused on Leah Cassorla’s RHET 125 “Writing in a Digital World” course in Fall 2019, where students are partnering with different Hartford organizations: HARC (serving people & families with disabilities), HPD Not Safe for Women (advocating for culture change around sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the Hartford Police Department), Kamora’s Cultural Corner (focused on cultural humility through an Afrocentric, black, queer perspective), and Trinity’s VITA Tax Clinic. Students will create  print and web materials for the organizations that incorporate the design, rhetorical situation, audience, delivery, genre, and editing concepts they’ve studied in class. Stay tuned for more.

At the second round of CLiFF feedback, Economics Professor Ibrahim Shikaki presented ideas on building a Community Learning component into his new Spring 2020 course ECON 224: “Macroeconomics and Inequality,” which will focus on the political and social impacts of  income inequality in Hartford. In particular, students will learn about the bargaining power of labor unions and rising levels of income inequality. and study the statistical correlation between union membership and rising income inequality. Ibrahim proposed two ideas for potential community partnerships, based on local contacts recommended by Dougherty and Hartline, and received feedback from the group on ways to expand the breadth and depth of learning experiences for his students.

“We created the Community Learning Faculty Fellows program in 2018 to focus on the needs of newer faculty,” explained CHER Director Jack Dougherty. “Many faculty are attracted to Trinity for the teaching and research opportunities with partners in Hartford’s diverse communities, and they bring innovative ideas and new energy.” But newer faculty often require more support to build new relationships with people in the city who share mutual interests, and in designing new courses that integrate liberal arts and Community Learning goals. Since launching last year, 15 newer faculty members have participated in the program so far, with positive results. “CLiFF Fellows often tell us that these workshops provide them with valuable and sustained feedback on their teaching ideas, which rarely happens elsewhere in their academic careers,” said Megan Hartline, Director of Community Learning. “By focusing on collaborative partnerships and perspective-building relationships during faculty members’ first few years at Trinity, we hope it will have long-term benefits for our students and community partners in the decades to come.”