Experiential Learning and Community Engagement

The Value of Experiential Learning

At Roger Williams University service learning is integrated into our Core Values, making the world our classroom. In the Department of History and American Studies, faculty members take this idea to heart, and are committed to putting it into praxis. The art of Experiential Learning is to bring the classroom (theory and history learning) to the real world (practice/praxis). Through Experiential Learning students how ideas they encounter in the classroom play out in the real world, using the knowledge of historical, social, political and social justice to understand their experiences.

Americans in Paris

Students in Paris.Paris—the city of lights! Love! Romance! So many notions abound about Paris, and so many of them were written by Americans who fled to interwar Paris as a refuge from intolerance, discontent, and Prohibition.   Painters, photographers, poets, musicians, singers, dancers, writers, and actors flocked to Paris during the 1920s and 1930s to escape racism, homophobia, misogyny, and strict sexual mores.  Amidst the modernizing backdrop of a French city in flux, where constructions of identity were much less rigid than in the United States, many American artists and thinkers, those we now call the “Lost Generation,” found inspiration in Paris.  In this course, we will travel to Paris for 10 days, and study Paris in the context of America, especially where intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality were redefined for (or by) Americans in Paris.

This course will examine the lives of American women who were expatriates in Paris during the Golden Age period of 1920-1940.  Students will read memoirs, novels, lyrics and poems written in Paris, while walking through the neighborhoods and visiting the sites that served as the backdrop for this extraordinary period of cultural production.  They will see the paintings and photographs of American expatriates in museums, while reading about their lives in history texts. They will write about their own experiences in Paris—les memoires—as they sit on the banks of the Seine searching for their own muse. They will learn how someone like Josephine Baker, an African American woman, could become a one of the most famous singers, dancers, and actresses in Paris while back in the United States African Americans suffered under Jim Crow laws.  Or, how Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Natalie Barney and Romaine Brookes, and were able to live openly as lesbians in Paris, serving as guides for many of the centuries most prolific artists and writers. We will explore the ways in which Paris offered women like Djuna Barnes, Jannet Flanner, and Sylvia Beach space to explore sensuality, sexuality, and love while homosexuals in America hid for fear of persecution and, sometimes even institutionalization. We will feel Paris, as these expats did – as writers and thinkers given space to breathe. History will be our guide through the city as we imagine the beauty of the Lost Generation.

Social Justice in Hispaniola

Professor Autumn Quezada-Grant (History) and Professor Paola Prado (Journalism) are partnering together to teach two courses in the Dominican Republic devoted to the study and presentation of social justice. In this study abroad program, students will come face to face with the challenge of economic disparities and questions of social equity as students are pushed out of the classroom so as to apply theory to practice in examining the social realities in the Dominican Republic. Students work on a number of applied projects where they interview and engage with community members. Part of the learning experience for our students is that they understand how to interact with others outside of their own culture and community in a socially just manner. In the Journalism course (Dr. Paola Prado), the group will explore and practice news-gathering and reporting, while in the History course (Dr. Autumn Quezada-Grant) students will study the historical and cultural dimensions of social justice in the island of Hispaniola. 

RWU’s Chapter of FIMRC: A History

FIRMC is the Foundation for the International Medical Relief for Children, located in Philadelphia, Penn. FIMRC operates in no less than 7 countries around the world offering free medical care for children and mothers. Roger Williams University's partnership with FIMRC under the leadership of Professors Kerri Warren (Biology and Pubic Health) and Autumn Quezada-Grant (History) allows our students to do volunteer work through service-learning. Professors Warren and Quezada-Grant help to facilitate a well-rounded learning experience through ethnical practices in partnership with local leaders in FIMRC assisted communities. This volunteer experience offers students a very unique avenue through which to think about Public Health and Social Justice on the ground in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.

What Do We Do?

Here is an example of one of our trips:  

Nicaragua, Project Limón
Spring Break 2014

Professor Autumn Quezada-Grant, the co-advisor for the FIMRC Chapter at RWU traveled with 13 students to the southwestern coast of Nicaragua to work in the Department of Tola, which comprises about 5 different communities. Our students worked through a FIMRC clinic that partnered locally with a Nicaraguan Health Post. FIMRC projects around the world are sustained through volunteer fees which help pay a site manager as well as to pay the ways of local community leaders in outreach. Fees also are used to help fund the purchasing of health supplies and medicines.

The partnership between the FIMRC Clinic and the Nicaraguan Health Post benefits both operations. Public Health in Nicaragua is poorly funded and supplied by the Ministry of Health. FIMRC’s support in the Department of Tola helps provide much needed resources to the health post. To be specific, the FIMRC clinic provides a pediatrician (a specialist) for local children at no cost. For people who earn $2.00 a day on average, the cost of a specialist even under the public health structure ($20.00) is enormous. Specialists (like pediatricians) are over an hour away and most of the people in the Department of Tola do not have access to transportation. FIMRC helps to ease this obstacle by providing and covering the cost of pediatric care twice a week. In addition, the FIMRC clinic shares is supply of OTC medicines with the Health Post. This proves vital to the operation of the Health Post. FIMRC also funds a local health education promotor to do school visits every week to speak to children about health issues related to their lives. The FIMRC clinic also runs a diabetic program that helps to monitor and educate over 150 diabetics in the area. Lastly, the FIMRC clinic funds a local nurse to do home maturity visits to promote health education about pregnancy and child birth. The population in Tola is very conservative an most women refuse to publicly speak about women’s health. More over, the Health Post does not provide health education. FIMRC helps to fill a number of local gaps in the Nicaraguan Public Health System. Volunteers work along side local leaders in all of these programs. Our RWU students shadowed nurses, spoke in classrooms giving public health talks in Spanish and in the homes of pregnant mothers.

The Alternative Spring Break experience is a growing trend on campus offering students life changing opportunities. FIMRC, along side my co-advisor Professor Kerri Warren and our supporters such as Nancy Soukup who traveled with our Dominican Republic group, is a leader on campus in offering valuable life experiences to our students.

We would like to thank the William T. Morris Foundation for it’s generous grant of $5,000 which helped to cover travel costs for our students. Supporting such endeavors makes a difference in the lives of all participants.

Rich Diversity in Local History

Connecting with the community is an important aspect of our programs in the Department of History and American Studies.  We are located in an area rich in historical resources  which allows for easy access to local archives and historical sites for class projects and field trips. Our proximity to Providence as well as some of Rhode Island's richest farm lands allow us easy access to communities of all kinds from the urban to the rural.  Our faculty regularly take advantage of all these resources to supplement in-class instruction and activities.

In addition, we are fortunate to have on our campus the Community Partnership Center (CPC) where local community organizations can submit requests for faculty and student assistance in advancing their organization's interests.  Working with community partners, Roger Williams students and their faculty leaders participate in real world situations, tackling real world problems and apply what they are learning in the classroom and gain experience in the areas they hope to work one day.  In  only two short years the CPC has already connected many community organizations with members of the RWU community in projects that have had a significant impact on the local area and have provided invaluable experiences for our students.  The Department of History and American Studies has been fortunate to participate in these kinds of projects and looks forward to many more opportunities like this in the future as the CPC continues to grow.

Rhode Island Goes to War

A course with Professor Debra Mulligan that utilizes the community and our local archives in the state.

Historical Field Trips

Professor Charlotte Carrington teaches Early America, and regularly takes students out of the classroom and into history:

  • Salem, MA – as part of an in-depth research project on witchcraft in the seventeenth century
  • Bristol, RI – walking tour with Linden Place to explore Bristol's connections to the slave trade
  • Lexington, MA – Patriot's Day re-enactment of the Revolutionary War battle
  • Boston MA – the freedom trail and the Revolutionary War; visit to Massachusetts Historical Society to examine artifacts and documents from the Revolutionary War