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GSJ course examines global diversity in the Twin Cities

Cinthya Cortes '10 (far right) with her fashion merchanding classmates.
Cinthya Cortes '10 (far right) with her fashion merchanding classmates.
St Catherine University proves to be yet again a venue to explore cultural diversity with its honors Global Search for Justice (GSJ) course, “The Immigrant Experience.” The 14-week course, co-taught spring 2010 by Assistant Professor of Sociology Hui Wilcox and English Professor Joanne Cavallaro, examines social justice issues through the lens of immigrants to the United States.

In addition to learning about immigration history and immigration policies, the students must familiarize themselves with American culture and politics — and ultimately question their own immigrant pasts as well. They also are asked to complete 20 hours of community service learning.

“I believe that students cannot learn about social groups with different experiences without direct interaction,” says Wilcox. “I also believe that there is a real need in immigrant communities (to connect with the other residents in their neighborhoods). By combining community work and classroom learning, the students are able to practice the ‘two feet of social justice’ — service and action for change."

St. Kate’s Center for Community Work and Learning facilitates the community component of the course.

For Treza Rosado '12, the course was an important link to her cultural past. Rosado, whose family is Puerto Rican, spent time at El Collegio, a Latino-based charter high school in Minneapolis.

"The most rewarding part of this St. Kate's class has been connecting with my roots," she says. Rosado grew up in the United States surrounded by a strong American influence, and over the years she had lost touch with her Latin heritage. "It was very validating to see people celebrating their cultural pride," she adds.

Kelsey Delander, a senior in nursing, worked at two different places — Minnesota Internship Center and St. Croix Central High School — while taking the GSJ course with Wilcox and Cavallaro. She helped students with their homework and also put together a handbook on how best to serve students who were learning English at St. Croix High School.

Delander says she was able to see immigration and social justice theories in action, as well as connect the classroom reading to her personal experience.

Opening eyes and hearts

Cinthya Cortes’ position at the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent ended up being more than she expected. When the St. Kate's senior in fashion merchandising and international business and economics began her work there, the center was in the process of putting together a musical production to address Hmong American identities and other cultural/youth issues.

“I volunteered as a costume/wardrobe assistant, but I did pretty much anything that they needed,” she explains.

Cortes, from a Latin American culture, was initially worried she wouldn’t relate to the Hmong students she had to help. But her fears were assuaged soon after she started.

“I ended up learning how we were so much alike,” she says. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.” Cortes also admits to knowing a lot more about the Hmong culture now that she ever did.

“A really important component of community work and learning is to have good communications with community partners,” says Wilcox. “The Community Work and Learning center has made integrating service-learning a hundred times easier than when I did it alone. They work tirelessly with faculty and students to make this experience fulfilling.”

Community work and learning, though, is not always easy and comfortable, says Wilcox, “but when you look back, you know you’ve done the right thing.”

Edited from The Civic Connector published monthly by St. Kate’s Center for Community Work and Learning.

Aug. 31, 2010 by Arial Kirst

See also: Leadership, Liberal Arts, Students