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Paying It Forward

Students in last semester’s Women & the Bible course served in a tutoring program funded as the result of a successful grant application that had been written by their peers in another class just the semester before. The grant, written in Judaism & Christianity: The Holocaust, funded an after-school program for local refugees.

Both courses include service-learning components added by Kathleen Gallagher Elkins (Theology & RS) after the experience of teaching the Holocaust class left her feeling that the students needed something more. “The class is generally about the history and theology of the Holocaust,” she explains, “and the theological reflection on how we understand God’s role there; how we understand the failure of people in that kind of genocide. I thought it was a good class, but [the Holocaust] seemed abstract to them in a way, so I added the service-learning component.”

Students in the spring 2018 offering of the course were required to complete 20-plus hours of service with a local organization whose mission somehow related to the themes of the class. Partnerships included one with COMSA (Community Services Agency Inc.), which provides services to Somali refugees and other immigrant and refugee communities in the area. St. Norbert students assisted with the organization’s Women Empowerment program, joined the Global U-Knighters to host a Somali Culture Night at SNC and wrote grants. The COMSA grant was awarded just in time for students in Gallagher Elkins’ new fall Women & the Bible class to fulfil their service-learning requirement by volunteering in the tutoring program: “It was so exciting to see one student in the spring write this grant, find out they received the grant and use the grant in a way that my next batch of students could serve. One of the things we talk about in academic service-learning is the deep partnerships that can happen. Often, for three months [students] go there and then walk away. It’s ideal when the community and the college partner can stick together and sustain those relationships.”

COMSA’s Mahamed Rage, himself displaced at age 7 by civil war in Somalia, was able to speak to the Holocaust class. “I spoke about the refugee crisis globally and how that relates to what they are studying,” he explains. “We have the most displaced people around the world since World War II.”

March 17, 2019