Representatives from over 22 universities and colleges attended a poster session that displayed the work of several campus civic engagement groups at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility this past Monday night. The event is part of a two-day Program Directors’ conference sponsored by Project Pericles, an organization founded by Eugene Lang ’38, to promote social awareness on college campuses.
Since its creation in 2001, Project Pericles has grown to encompass 33 institutions of higher education in the project’s mission to treat social justice as an integral part of education. Participating colleges strive to build a program that encourages civic involvement through extracurricular activities that highlight and reinforce concepts learned in the classroom. According to the Project Pericles website, “Pericleans seek to harness the strengths and resources of the entire academic community in responding to the needs of society.”
“Essentially, the program is intended to establish the reality that every cause, every area of education, has social implications which can be good or bad,” said Lang. “The important thing is that you be part of what you learn in any discipline so that you’ll be able to use your knowledge and develop a particular area of concern…that [shows] you’re conscious of the social issues that are relevant.”
Jan Liss, the Executive Director of Project Pericles, explained that the event also allows “Periclean” schools to network. “The Program Directors come to share ideas with each other and then throughout the year, you see all these partnerships and collaborations and schools learning from each other how to do civic engagement and incorporate it in the curriculum,” said Liss. “It’s exciting.”
Associate Director for Student Programs and Training at the Lang Center Jennifer Magee explained that, “The Program Directors [who oversee civic activities at their school] are meeting to trade notes, to look for areas of collaboration, [and to] talk about civic engagement and how that’s done at their school.”
At Swarthmore, the program includes grants awarded to campus groups funded by Lang and by the Board of the College. “They decided that they would like to fund student projects that address significant issues in meaningful ways,” said Magee.
Of the organizations that created posters and spoke at the conference, the Sudan Radio Project, PemÃ³n Health, the Village Education Project, and Global Health Forum are currently receiving the grant. Other Lang Center groups such as War News Radio, Saturdays of Service, and Swarthmore STAND were also featured at the conference.
According to Magee, the Lang Center wanted to invite a range of student projects “to talk about how they engage in social action, how they do civic engagement. They’re here to tell us about all the good works they’re up to.”
Other Periclean schools have also supported student groups and community outreach by inciting programs that allow students to work with organizations outside of the college. Rhodes College, for example, recently created a fellowship program that promotes volunteering within Memphis, TN.
“Our plan is focusing on experiential education,” said Robert Strandburg, the Project Pericles Program Director at Rhodes College. “You can have a fellowship that involves doing research at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital or you can have a fellowship doing service work at a homeless shelter.”
Strandburg said that the goal at Rhodes, as with most Project Pericles members, is to ask, “How can we make these student engagements more effective for the community and more effective for the students?”
This message was then echoed by Lang, who said, “You can learn about a lot of things – and they’re interesting – but part of education is learning how to use your wisdom wisely…and part of wisdom is also understanding and perhaps compassion.”