PBHA To Offer Service Course

A new Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) course funded by the federal Americorps volunteer program will one day be part of a more rigorous system of training students for public service, PBHA leaders say.

Today is the deadline for students to apply for one of the 30 spots in the new Education for Social Action class, a ten-week not-for-credit introduction to coordinating service with advocacy.

PBHA officers came up with the idea last January, during a discussion on the disconnect between short-term, symptomatic help and political activism that addresses the causes of social ills.

“It will help you look at how PBHA groups can supplement their programs with long-term social action steps,” said Dominika L. Seidman ’03, an officer with PBHA’s housing and advocacy programming group who helped come up with the idea for the course. “Any good service program should have an advocacy component... And the best advocacy has to be informed by service.”

PBHA leaders say the spring course will help students improve the quality and scope of the existing programs.

They also say Education for Social Action is intended to be a pilot for a larger program in student development. Ultimately, after several such courses have been developed, new members will pass through a standard progression of courses—one each semester they’re involved in the organization.

They say the system will ensure all volunteers share a broad awareness of the issues their programs address and will systematically uncover potential program directors.

“Right now it’s kind of random who becomes passionate and who gains very little from and invests very little in the experience,” Seidman said, “so we’re trying to institutionalize our student development more.”

Although the course is run through PBHA, which is financially and administratively independent of the University, funding for Education for Social Action comes in the form of a $10,000 grant from Americorps Volunteers in Service to America—which Seidman and other PBHA officers had applied for last March.

The money will go chiefly to employ an Americorps service learning coordinator who has been designated for the program. The coordinator, Moira Mannix, arrived at Harvard last June and has worked with the PBHA cabinet, Harvard faculty and community leaders to design the course syllabus.

The course will focus on in-depth examinations of particular service issues and marginalized communities or neighborhoods and will encourage students to analyze and reflect on volunteer and advocacy work they have done.

“The fact is that more informed individuals can work better in a community and can be more sensitive to its assets and concerns,” Mannix said. “This course also gives students who are very busy and are very involved the space and time to think about the work they do, which gets missed a lot.”

In addition to reflection sessions to encourage students to share service experiences, the course will include two largely instructional components.

Students will spend their first few weeks studying issues of housing, gang and youth violence or education reform and learning how to advocate and enact change.

For the remainder of the course, students will select a particular area—either Cambridge or Boston’s Chinatown or Lower Roxbury—and learn about the history, make-up and issues facing the area.

Organizers plan visits to the neighborhoods and speakers from the Chinese Progressive Association, the Graduate School of Education, the Boston City Council and the School of Public Health’s Violence Prevention Program. Former Cambridge Mayor Francis H. Duehay ’55 is also scheduled to address the class.

“Hopefully, when people come in talking about their successes and failures organizing or petitioning for social change, that will help students brainstorm about what college students can do around these issues, and effective tactics to use,” Mannix said.

Mannix and PBHA officials will interview applicants over the coming weeks and work to find more funding the program so that students who complete Education for Social Action can apply for small grants to educate communities or organize advocacy efforts.