One highlight during my internship this year with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities has been researching some inspiring examples of how colleges and universities are making a difference in their communities – specifically by partnering with community organizations that receive funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
One example of partnership is Xavier University (OH) faculty, students, and staff with Interfaith Business Builders (IBB), a CCHD-funded group in Cincinnati. IBB recently opened Community Blend, a cooperative coffee shop where employees own an equal share of the business and fully participate in the company’s decision-making processes. Xavier University students and faculty have helped with Community Blend’s business plan in the past, and this year they engaged with the cooperative by creating its communications platform. In Wendy Maxian’s capstone class for seniors studying public relations, students conducted original research on Community Blend, and then created a strategic communications plan for the new business. Dr. Maxian, a professor of communication arts, said that her students appreciated the chance to create a real communications plan that a business will use, rather than an imaginary one as an assignment. Students enjoyed learning about the cooperative business model from Community Blend employee-owners, who also participated in the class. Dr. Maxian explains, “As a cooperative business, Community Blend’s values very much line up with Xavier’s Catholic and Jesuit values. I think it’s important for students to see those values in a context other than what they’d find on campus.” Future projects between Xavier University and Community Blend will focus on sustainability initiatives. Kathleen Smythe, a professor of history, has been working with other Xavier faculty members, IBB representatives, and Community Blend employee-owners to create a capstone course for sustainability majors, which will focus on sustainability, democracy, economic and political opportunity, and participation. The class will include readings, discussions, and field trips, specifically working with Community Blend employee-owners to enrich students’ learning outside the classroom. Dr. Smythe noted the value of the real-world experience that the students will gain from the endeavor. “The university has a moral and educational obligation to students to teach them the skills that will enable them to go out into the world,” she explained. Another example of partnership includes the student group Ambrosians for Peace and Justice (APJ) at St. Ambrose University (IA), working with the CCHD-funded group Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI). This relationship has been active for six years, and students from APJ assist QCI with a variety of initiatives. One student serves on QCI’s health care task force, which advocates for health equity, including access to health care for all members of the community. Another student serves on the immigration task force and spoke with the area’s sheriff about immigration procedures and customs enforcement. Last year, APJ students worked with QCI to try to pass state legislation banning the practice of shackling women prisoners during childbirth. While the bill passed in Iowa’s House of Representatives, it did not pass in the Senate; QCI has plans to re-introduce the legislation next year. APJ’s vice president Corrigan Goldsmith advised, “It’s very challenging work, but realizing that you can change a person’s life is worth it – you can’t change the entire system in a year, but keep laying the bricks and don’t get discouraged.” Next year, APJ will continue its collaboration with QCI, focusing on topics related to restorative justice. These examples demonstrate how colleges and universities witness to the faith and contribute important resources, skills, and knowledge for the benefit of the communities that surrounds them. More information is available here about how interested colleges and universities can participate. Andrea Price is a graduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.