Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Case Study

Intentional Student Communities: Project Neighborhood, Pamoja House, Our Place

Description of the Project

Unstructured off-campus time for students is a largely untapped area of student learning and community involvement (1). In order to effectively embed engagement into their core work, campuses must consider ways for students to participate naturally as active citizens within their geographic neighborhoods.  Intentional living environments that allow for healthy exchange between students, faculty, and community residents provide an arena for the deep learning that depends on involvement and community.  Campuses that are primarily residential face greater challenges here, but even these can develop ways to remind students that they are citizens of neighborhoods, towns, cities, or municipalities. 

Colleges should work to inform their students of local, regional, state, national, and international issues, through regular interaction with neighbors, city leaders, and residents.  This can be done naturally by exposing students to local non-profit organizations with target issues ranging from the local to the global.  For students to interact with other citizens, ranging from neighbors who are involved in the local Neighborhood Watch to local alumni who have organized Amnesty International chapters, provides them with models of engagement and lifelong citizenship.
Colleges and universities must help students to recognize that their lives are not fragmented collections of unconnected realities.  Built environments, natural environments, academic, social, political, and vocational commitments are all related in meaningful ways.  By providing students with resources for connecting with local residents, whether they be faculty, staff, alumni, or friends of the college, who live in the vicinity of students’ own residences will help to make the connections more visible and obvious.  This is not a new idea in higher education, just one that has been neglected as institutions have grown and the research model has supplanted the residential faculty model of operation.

In this environment in which fragmentation and specialization in higher education have led to a loss of community, education for citizenship has become counter-intuitive for students (2).  Bellah and his associates (1996), and more recently Putnam (2000) have presented convincing scholarship supporting this assumption.  Higher education in America has contributed to this trend by separating knowledge, skills and virtue and by enabling students to buy into a rampant, and particularly American, societal individualism.  Intentional Christian communities of learning, growing, serving, living, and worship can and do counteract this powerful force for students, staff and faculty at colleges and universities.  This case study’s focus is the historical context of student and faculty community involvement in American higher education, but focuses on Calvin College’s history and efforts toward intentional community.


Next: Historical Context