As a follow up to pondering how to get ourselves involved in building Beloved Community, I want to explore this legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by considering the deep need for beloved community within higher education. From my own limited experience with teaching and serving at Lewis University, there are (at least) two givens: there is always too much to do, and we often end up doing a lot of our work in silos. When it comes to partnering with the local community, however, it makes very little sense to fly solo. This would circumvent and inhibit the very partnerships we are working hard to build.
When I first became Coordinator of Service Learning, I found out that numerous people on campus were engaging the community one way or another, through leading student community service outings, to serving on boards, to fundraising. There is no question that Lewis is a very community-centered and generous institution. However, not many of the Lewis staff members in charge of connecting with the community were discussing their victories and challenges with each other. Some knew who the partners and contact persons were. Some knew policy. And still others were learning of the needs in the community through board participation or other communication channels.
Enter the Community Engagement Cooperative (CEC). In 2010, I met with two (now former) staff members to discuss what they knew about partners in the community, what they didn’t know, what we all needed by way of information and support, how we were or hoped to collect data about service, and how best we might share resources and insights. And voila, CEC was born. As with all children, it has grown in the interim, and now is comprised of five offices on campus, namely: Career Services, Multicultural Student Services, Office of Service Learning, Student Development & Leadership, and University Ministry. You can read our formal description and learn more about what we’ve been up to by going to our website page, www.lewisu.edu/servicelearning and clicking on Community Engagement Cooperative, or by reading one of our recent newsletters which contain articles about the CEC.
What does this have to do with Beloved Community? The representatives of the various offices chose to take on another committee meeting each month because we know we are more together than restricted in silos, that we have wisdom to share and generosity of heart to offer what we know, that the harvest is plenty and the needs are great in the community; any hope of meeting those needs rests in our ability to communicate and cooperate at Lewis. We are doing just that and, in the process, we are building beloved community one small step at a time.