More Than the Place We Call Home
For much of my career, I have focused on the relationships between institutions of higher education and the cities in which they’re located.
This has been true for my academic work as a sociologist and in my administrative work as a leader of urban public institutions. It is no less true today at Lewis & Clark.
I’d like to share some of my thinking about our community’s relationship with Portland, especially as we move forward with the goals from our strategic plan, Exploring for the Global Good.
We start from a solid place: we have long taken advantage of our proximity to the city and our location in the Pacific Northwest to attract and retain students, faculty, and staff. We share key values with Portland, including a dedication to sustainability, innovation, and leadership—a belief in working together to create a better tomorrow. And our graduate school and law school have well-established curriculum-based programs, practica, and clinics that provide essential services to underserved populations.
This sets the stage for us to do more. As our strategic plan makes clear, we can enhance the education and experiences of our students while making the city more culturally vibrant, socially just, and economically strong.
Our College of Arts and Sciences is developing more structured connections with the city, its people, and its neighborhoods. Our focus: to create mutually beneficial partnerships that foster the coproduction of knowledge. This collaboration based on mutual respect and benefit is very different from the traditional model of the college or university as “expert” and the city as a laboratory. To see one way we’re already putting this concept into interdisciplinary practice, read “Inside-Out,” a story about mass incarceration.
To build trust, these campus-community relationships generally take time to develop. Learning is a shared endeavor that comes from working together and assessing the impact of the collaborations. Consider the course on rhetoric led by Associate Professor Mitch Reyes in collaboration with Portland Public Schools. In the classroom, L&C students learn about applying classic principles of argumentation to foster social justice. They also spend dedicated time at an underserved high school in East Portland, mentoring high school students and helping them use rhetorical principles in their college application essays. This curriculum moves from the campus to the community and advances the interests of everyone involved.
More than half of our undergraduate academic departments have already identified courses in the catalog that have a substantial in-and-of-Portland focus. These and other connections have the potential to further nourish our students’ local and global citizenship values and may serve as gateways to internships. Our Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership is one of several programs working with partners to help students build world-ready skills and advance professional success. Curriculum-based civic engagement programs also have the capacity to strengthen our initiatives for recruiting and retaining top-level students, faculty, and administrators.
And the liberal arts prepare students to make an impact in their communities outside of a large metropolitan area. For more on this perspective, I encourage you to read this issue’s “Afterword”, by Michele Anderson BA ’04, based on her essay in the New York Times.
By focusing on who we are, where we are, and what we do well, we can best educate our students and collaborate with our city for the good of all.