Reinstatement of Community Studies Keeps Slugs Questioning Authority

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Community studies, a signature facet of UC Santa Cruz’s progressive identity, has been reinstated in order to maintain its commitment to foster social and economic justice.

Reinstated in May from its three-year suspension caused by the 2010 state budget crisis, the program recruits interested students who have a passion for community activism.

“From a student point of view, [community studies] fills a gap for the student who is looking to integrate theory and practice while they are in school,” said program manager Joan Peterson. “Many students on campus have done a lot of volunteer work and have been activists in high school, and they want to continue that activity. This major allows them to do that while also providing employment, frequently, when they’re done.”

Although still popular among students, the reinstated community studies program is not identical to its previous iteration.

“We’ve just come through a bad time after the suspension, not knowing if we were going to be able to continue,” Peterson said. “We’ve re-worked the curriculum because we’re smaller than we used to be. In general, more resources would improve the major.”

Even though a suspension affected community studies, the program still embodies the essence of UCSC from its founding in 1965, said program director Mary Beth Pudup.

“If you look at the university’s campaign on questioning authority, isn’t that always what community studies has done and been about?” Pudup said.

At the end of the tumultuous decade of social unrest in 1969, just four years after UCSC opened its doors as a pedagogically progressive institution, the community studies program arose within a context of student demand for “relevance in their studies … to the ‘real-world,’” according to “Academic Activists: Community Studies at [UCSC],” an article authored by the program’s founding director, William Friedland.

Many students were already pursuing off-campus activism individually, and the newly created program affirmed this desire through a field study requirement providing academic credit, a “bold experiment” as Pudup said in her chapter “The Politics of Engagement” from “The Engaged Campus.” Utilizing voices from faculty and administrators of universities working with community oriented education, “The Engaged Campus” discusses establishing and sustaining community engagement in majors and minors.

In her chapter, which discusses the history of community studies at UCSC, Pudup said this was the campus’s first interdisciplinary program using field study as a way to put theory into practice.

“Undergraduates could gain academic knowledge from the extended, full-time immersion in community work away from campus, [and focus on] an explicit engagement with pressing social problems caused by unequal access to power and resources in society,” Pudup said.

The six-month field study, which takes place in the summer and fall quarters between junior and senior year, allows students to locate an organization of their choice containing a social justice focus. Past examples include the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Local 415 Service Employees International Union in Santa Cruz and Planned Parenthood.

During fall quarter, students take “Intro to Activism,” which is the first step in preparing them to pursue their field study. In winter quarter, students choose where they will complete their field study, and during spring quarter, students take a course preparing them for their specific field study before the summer begins.

“When they go to work in their field study, it really reinforces the decision they’ve made [to be a community studies major],” said program manager Joan Peterson. “That happens 80 percent of the time. Between the time students leave to do their field study and when they come back six months later, they are changed. It’s an intangible kind of change — an emotional and professional maturity.”

This type of change Peterson noticed throughout the years does not just reflect her own personal opinion — students see it in themselves, too. In a survey conducted in 2005, Pudup said alumni championed the “lifelong civic engagement” they identify with as a direct result of their experiences in community studies.

Some of those alumni include former mayors of San Jose and Santa Cruz, the original director of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union — a major lender to workers’ cooperatives, female-and-minority-owned businesses and affordable housing projects and the founder of Barrios Unidos, a national organization with 27 chapters working to reduce gang involvement by providing positive alternatives to youth.

“It’s important to have a major like ours because now more than ever we need the kind of alumni we have produced who go out and work on social problems,” Pudup said.