Students come to the class – a service-learning course focused on social change – with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and a vision for a better world. While their ideas about what a better world might look like vary considerably, they all have a strong belief in the possible.
As part of the class, each student provides 20 hours of direct service at a local non-profit agency to explore the issues of service and advocacy in a local context. I have found the students who take this class to be so self-motivated that over the years, I have built greater flexibility into the assignments to make the class more meaningful. I now ask students to design their own final projects by choosing a topic with real-world application that connects to the themes of the course.
In the fall semester of 2014, motivated by their service work at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and New Leaf New Life, three of my SPEA V450 students created the Humans of Bloomington Facebook page, modeled on Brandon Stanton’s popular Humans of New York. Allison Shepler, Kevin Hinkle and Kristen Shrader focused the project on the questions of what makes a community and how to build community.
The three explored the city of Bloomington, meeting people, engaging in conversations and taking photographs. With this (and the consent of the subjects), they created entries that they posted on the Humans of Bloomington page. Their hope was to develop connections between people in the community. They tied the project to course content by focusing on suspending judgment — seeing the world through the lens of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange — and on developing empathy.
Kristen and Kevin graduated in May 2015, and Allison will enter the fall 2015 semester as a senior, so they have trained other students to join their effort. Working with Allison to continue the project this year are recent Bloomington South graduate Veronica Fickel, incoming IU Bloomington freshmen Madeline Kane and Rivka Moore, and IU Bloomington junior Madeline Taylor.
Humans of Bloomington does a wonderful job of presenting who we are as a community, highlighting our diversity and individuality as well as the commonality of our experiences of being human. I am so pleased that the students involved are training others to keep this project going and I’m very much looking forward to more stories from and about Humans of Bloomington.