DIALOGUE AS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Much of human services education is based on high-impact education practices, including service learning and community projects. Pedagogy encompasses community engagement, group projects, assessment of micro and macro community projects, and engagement in these challenges. Throughout our conversations in the classroom, we consider what is happening in our communities and the significance of such events. When a local high school student, Kimani Gray, was killed by the New York Police Department, we talked about what this meant (Goodman, 2013). Several students pointed out that they had known him and that this practice of aggressive policing that killed him was far too common in their communities. These insights connected their own personal histories with larger policy debates in this global city. Several students became involved in research on stop-and-frisk policing, focusing their semester's work on the ways the city could change this policy. Within a year of this conversation, lawsuits would put an end to the policy, and a new mayor was elected who denounced this practice. Student participation, dialogue, and organizing around the issue were part of the groundswell that put this issue on the agenda for the next mayoral election and led to a change in administration and evolution of this policy. However, the problems with racism and institutional discrimination would not go away. The topic would remain a part of the conversation in classes from field practicum to community organization, community mental health, and health and social welfare policy. Over time, I would see many of these students in the streets at protests just steps from our campus, on the Brooklyn Bridge or downtown, a part of the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.
Little of this would be possible without a pedagogy that allowed for getting out of the classroom and working in communities (Shdaimah, Stahl, & Schram, 2011). Many social workers have a limited understanding of notions of what is meant by “person in environment” (Shdaimah et al., 2011). Holistic engagement opens up a space for us to imagine new ways of looking at ideas of individual functioning within the “environment.” Here, students are charged with making sense of the ways people help each other, in large ways and small, while supporting their communities. After all, holistic engagement is as much about noticing the day-to-day, moment-by-moment experiences as it is the “outlier” events. As well, students are engaged to contemplate what happens when we cope with events such as Superstorm Sandy, which robbed many students of house and home, taking away electricity or ways of moving through their city. Through service learning around such experiences, students explored new models of environmental social work (Dominelli, 2012; Grey et al., 2013), as well as innovations on holistic social work practice and engagement within the community.