April 26, 2004

The practice of community:
Beyond our borders

Vialla Hartfield-Méndez is senior lecturer in Spanish and Portuguese, and a University-Community Faculty Fellow.

In January, President Jim Wagner inaugurated this column contemplating the practice of community as a distinctive part of Emory’s mission. While the focus at that moment was on Emory’s internal sense of community, the University’s Vision Statement advocates that members of this “inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse” Emory community also “work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world.”

Atlanta, Emory’s immediate wider world, has become increasingly internationalized in the last decade, making our nearest neighbors also sometimes our windows to the far reaches of the world beyond our national borders. There has been a parallel internationalization of Emory during the same period.

As long as these two internationalizations remain parallel—without intersecting—Emory misses opportunities to engage in the practice of community beyond our campus. When they cross paths, extraordinary relationships and exchanges can result.

Working with many members of the Emory community, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese has in the last three years established links with Atlanta’s Hispanic/Latino community, encouraging students, faculty and community members to create long-term, fruitful relationships.

Through the integration of Theory Practice Learning components in courses at several levels, Emory students now have a logical progression of involvement in the Spanish-speaking community. In an intermediate course, they interact with Spanish-speaking children from area schools through programs designed in collaboration with the Carlos Museum and based on the museum’s ancient Americas holdings.

In an upper-level course, “Writing, Context and Community,” a significant part of the learning takes place during students’ work with Hispanic/Latino children. Some students work at Sutton Middle School tutoring ESOL students; some are at Cary Reynolds Elementary teaching Spanish-speaking children to read and write in Spanish, helping them work toward full, bilingual literacy; some go to Caminar Latino, a program for Hispanic families dealing with domestic violence. Emory students may then complete internships at Sutton Middle School.

Or they may choose to participate this summer in the Mexican Cultural Immersion Program here on campus in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate, Cary Reynolds Elementary and the Carlos Museum. This intensive program in Spanish for Hispanic children will be facilitated by teachers from Mexico assisted by Emory interns.

The extraordinary results stretch beyond the classroom. Emory graduates who have participated in these programs are now in the wider world running a literacy program in a public library system; or coordinating a Girl Scouts “Hermanitas” program; or studying public health or medicine with the intention of working with Hispanic/Latino families; or otherwise engaged in many similar activities.

This year the Emory College Language Center hosted a commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in which members of Emory’s community read selections in languages other than English. The notion of “Emory community” included a group of Hispanic 8th graders in the ESOL program at Sutton Middle School. Each read a poem in Spanish, accompanied by an Emory tutor who read in English. Some Emory students are still talking and writing about this event, and the Sutton students and their teachers consider it a watershed moment in their school year.

An Emory intern at Sutton this semester has taken on a separate project, privately tutoring one of the most academically promising—yet most at-risk—13-year-olds in the school. Because of the intern’s intervention, an immigrant child who likely would have dropped out of school now sees a different possibility. Because Emory created a mechanism for the intern to become involved in Atlanta’s larger international community, she can make that difference.

A number of similar initiatives exist across campus. For example, through the efforts of the Office of University-Community Partnerships, Emory has received a grant to implement Project SHINE (Students Helping In the Naturalization of Elders), which will further involve students with international immigrant communities. In Atlanta, some of these are from unfamiliar countries. But when we take our practice of community beyond our borders, we not only broaden the para-meters of academic reflection and inquiry, we also better comprehend what it means to “work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world.”