#MakingPlaceMatter in COVID 19

Thursday, April 30, 2020

At the beginning of the Spring 2020, we were in a heady, academic space—exploring ideas, theories, concepts around our annual theme, #MakingPlaceMatter, a theme centered on cultivating greater consciousness about the places and spaces created by community-engaged teaching and learning. Our programming and events examined how places and spaces are structured and defined in ways that can separate or unite communities, limit or enhance awareness, diminish or expand power differentials. 

Then COVID-19 happened, and suddenly things got very real.

Who could have guessed that our theme could have taken such a swift, unexpected, and highly personal turn?  Who could have predicted that a virus would be teaching us profound lessons around separation and engagement, scrambling to answer the question ‘What does community mean now?’

 Life in quarantine brought abrupt and life-changing lessons about space and place on a visceral level—painful lessons nobody wants or freely chooses. This new landscape is disorienting, continually shifts, and in its’ darker moments can feel like quicksand. Despite these challenges, our faculty, students, and community partners are finding their footing and learning how to stay socially distanced, yet meaningfully engaged -- in their homes, with their families, in nature, and most of importantly, with each other. 

Here are a few silver linings that illustrate the creative ways our service-learning community are taking care of each other -- together yet apart:

  • In “Psychosocial Aspects of Human Development” and “Aging and Health,” students have continued writing letters to the older residents in Durham nursing homes and retirement facilities they were seeing in person prior to the Coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Debby Gold, who teaches both courses reports: “Most of the students have articulated that being “ripped out” of their service without time to say goodbye was really hard on them, and they want to be sure that the older adults know how much they learned from them this semester. It may work brilliantly. It may be a disaster. But never let it be said that we didn’t try to accommodate changing world norms and means of communication.”
  • In “Issues of Education and Immigration,” students prepared teaching materials for GANO ESL tutors, short videos for El Centro Hispano about the importance of participating in the census, and a guide for how Duke students could fundraise for Durham Public Schools.
  • In “Death, Burial, and Justice in the Americas,” students used library resources to research the lives and historical circumstances of people buried at Geer Cemetery, wrote narratives of their lives, and organized an online presentation of this research that drew a crowd of over 100 people on Thursday, April 16th.
  • In “Small-Town USA: Local Collaborations,” students have been documenting the COVID-19 quarantine from everyone's perspective. The URL is: https://smalltown2020.wordpress.com. Photographers visit each class virtually to help students understand how they use photography to serve others.
  • Each year, Duke Service-Learning reviews Duke's Visible Thinking abstracts to award the Community-Engaged designation for undergraduate research. Normally, we present these awards at the in-person poster session, this year, we recognized these designations online.
  • Duke Service-Learning is also compiling best practices for virtual engagement and supporting students as they consider how to engage virtually this summer through a series of webinars called “Contexts, Connections, Communities.” We’ve partnered with the Duke Office of Civic Engagement, Duke Careers, Duke Global Engagement, Duke Director’s for Academic Engagement to advise students on how to use the summer to learn, contribute and grow (safely!) through remote service opportunities.