By Gandzhina Dustova —
Dr. Kiesha Warren-Gordon, Ball State associate professor of criminal justice and criminology and director of the African American studies minor, works with members of the Muncie community to create opportunities for student engagement in service learning and research focusing on social justice issues. As a senior faculty fellow for Indiana Campus Compact and recipient of the 2021 Ball State Outstanding Faculty Service Award, Warren-Gordon received over $25,000 in grants to support community engagement and community-based research endeavors. She used these funds to give students the opportunity to collaborate with the community and to investigate research questions that explore social justice issues.
One of the goals of the ICC fellowship was to implement a service-learning component into CJC 398, an upper-level criminal justice course titled “Human Services in Criminal Justice.” Warren-Gordon immersed herself in critical service-learning literature to develop a deeper understanding of power relations that exist between universities, students, and community partners. She also engaged with the surrounding community by partnering with the Whitely neighborhood in Muncie, Indiana. Whitely’s approximately 1,500 residents have been overwhelmed by crime, unemployment, and a lack of trust in social service agency support.
During the first half of the fellowship period, students worked with neighborhood leaders to ascertain community concerns. Students conducted focus groups and interviews and administered surveys to develop an understanding of community members’ feelings regarding safety and community engagement. Students also worked to develop an understanding of how their own socioeconomic positions frame how they understand communities that are different from their own. Integrating critical service learning into the immersive learning course meant intentionally structuring activities to challenge students’ biases and preconceived notions about people of color and, more broadly, those who are different from the dominant white, Eurocentric norm. At the end of the semester, students presented their findings to the Whitely community.
Throughout the semester, the critical service-learning project addressed community safety issues and recommended actions to prevent crime. In Whitely, Dr. Warren-Gordon and her research assistants examined how safety is defined in a broader context. Findings suggested that the community safety concerns were centered on a lack of street lighting, minimal sidewalks, and an unsettling number of roaming dogs in the neighborhood. Students brainstormed ideas for the class and the community to work together to address those issues.
In addition to identifying grants to provide support for street lighting and sidewalk construction, CJC 398 students also studied pet ownership. Students created a pamphlet summarizing the responsibilities of pet owners in public places. Many citizens did not realize that city regulations can impose fines or even jail time on pet owners who do not properly control their pets. Items addressed include what to do if your dog bites someone, if you no longer want to own a dog, and where pet owners can surrender dogs.
After researching state statutes centered on dog control, students also created a brochure for the community that provided specific guidelines on what to do if a stray or roaming dog was found, how to identify animal mistreatment, and how to provide dog owners assistance and resources.
These brochures were passed out to apartment complexes and neighborhoods in the community and residents continue to have monthly meetings to discuss this issue in a proactive manner to promote educational awareness around the issue of leash-free, roaming dogs. With this growing awareness, more community members have taken greater responsibility to inform dog owners how to care properly for their pets and ensure community safety. Students in Warren-Gordon’s course concluded that community members benefit greatly by becoming more aware of specific activities and events focused on community safety.
As critical service-learning practitioners, every moment instructors engage students in community-based work is a teachable one, said Warren-Gordon:
“Teachable moments in the communities to which we each are committed are meaningful—understandings emerging from hands-on, authentic interactions between students and community members. Profound realization and internal change occur when students, particularly white students, connect community members’ lived experiences of marginalization to course materials about white hegemonic oppression on a systemic level. This depth of understanding is what we aim for as we dedicate time and energy to long-term sustainable projects that will, over time, dismantle oppressive practices and promote transformative change that will directly benefit the individuals in the communities with whom we collaborate.”