Spread Out

How do we engage in social justice when social distancing? The Ignatian Center is attempting to answer.

How do we engage in social justice when social distancing? It’s a riddle communities across the U.S. have grappled with since shutting down to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving individuals to spread apart to keep each other safe. At Santa Clara University, where all undergraduates are required to participate in experiential learning for social justice, the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education is attempting to fill the gap in creative ways.

When the program began 30 years ago, “it was about allowing students to make connections between what they’re learning in the classroom with what it means to have a relationship on the ground with someone who is living in a marginalized circumstance,” says Jennifer Merritt, director of Community-based Learning (CBL) in the Ignatian Center. And it’s still about that today, in-person or not.

Following quarantine orders, Ignatian Center staff compiled different ways for students to engage with community partners virtually. These included video interviews with Merritt asking partners questions related to specific courses. “It could be anything from food security for a food justice class, to questions about depression during quarantine for an abnormal psychology class,” she says. What was discussed was then folded into class assignments and discussions.

[Read full story: Social Justice, Hold the Socializing]

Illustration by Maheswari Janarthanan
During quarantine, students enrolled in courses with an experiential learning for social justice component learn how to virtually accompany others living in marginalized circumstances through the Center’s community partners. Illustration by Maheswari Janarthanan.

Another way for SCU students to engage is virtual service. Brad Shirley ’20, an electrical engineering major, tutored a sixth grader in math via video call. Once homework was done, Shirley says they had fun taking apart things like Bluetooth speakers to see how they work.

Though Shirley says traditional in-person tutoring might be preferable, he was still able to make a connection online. “I think the alternative would have been sitting through lectures of how ELSJ works within the community, which is not engaging and not really the point,” he says. “This is more interactive and I get to actually share what I do and I found I really like doing that.”

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