This blog is written by Jordan Saint-Louis ’24, a student from the Center for Community Engagement’s first Community Connected Learning course in fall 2020, about the class experience. Funny enough, I registered for the Community Connected Learning (CCL) course in fall 2020 with the idea of using my streetwear label, VOICI, which I had been working on since May of 2020, for course credit at Midd. That was the initial motivation when I started the CCL class: “How can I tie my business to a course at Midd?” I think within our second or third week though, I had this revelation that my approach to VOICI was flawed. This led me towards taking Midd Entrepreneurs this J-term, which confirmed we were lacking in development within a crucial part of our business. In a sentence, VOICI is about building a community and telling the story of the community within the DMV (D.C, Maryland, Virginia) area and hopefully to other markets as well. However, in my honest opinion, that honestly doesn’t scratch the service of our brand (check it out @voici on Instagram) and taking the CCL course made me realize my business could be further developed! My project for the class was titled “Still Chocolate City” and was centered around the U Street Corridor in Washington D.C., which was once dubbed “Chocolate City,” and how the soul of the area was disappearing due to gentrification. I had never done or participated in community engagement work, unless you count community service, which I learned during the class that we should not mistake the two as being the same. As mentioned above, the first thing I learned in the class was how different community service is from community engagement learning. Everything from the structure and goals of the work done to the relationships built contrast drastically. Community service is done to a community whereas community engagement is done with the community and for the community, to create a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the most influential part of the course was when learning about dispositions and how we should think about/present a community to others. Often, we look at a community based on what they lack and how much we can help them with our resources and “privilege.” This mindset greatly influences how we view the community and talk about it with others, which forms our dispositions. It is almost like they become a burden or we are doing them a favor by helping, but in truth, most of these communities are home to diverse communities that give birth to the culture that defines an area. U Street in D.C. is no different. So rather than say “we are giving back to the community,” we say “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have.” That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course. The course made me feel as though I could really create change within my community and honestly, communities around the world. In the current climate in the world, I feel as though we all to some extent feel some responsibility to do something, no matter what “side” you are on, and for me, it is no different. The CCL course made me realize that my responsibility is to tell the stories of my community and educate my generation on the issues we have so that in the end we can come together to fix that. The course made me feel that this is the thing that I feel won’t get done unless I do it.
So rather than say “we are giving back to the community,” we say “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have.” That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course.
I believe we are all looking for that “thing,” whether that be our purpose, our why, or our reason for living (if you want to get dramatic). So to any student pondering that question or whether to take the course, I would say take it. At the very least you will become closer with a community, whether that is Middlebury’s or your own. And if you really pursue it and search for it, your “why” might appear. To learn more about the Center for Community Engagement’s Community Connected Learning course, click the link for more information: https://www.middlebury.edu/office/community-engagement/programs/civic-leadership/community-connected-learning-course