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ENC to launch new Center for Responsibility and Justice

Published: October 22, 2010

Eastern Nazarene College has a long tradition of sending its students out into the community as volunteers, interns, tutors and mentors.

Now, the college is taking steps to formalize its campus commitment to community involvement and social change through the creation of the Center for Responsibility and Justice (CRJ).

Scheduled to launch Oct. 27 with a three-day series of workshops, discussions, film screenings and receptions, the CRJ will enable ENC students to take new courses that explore justice issues while also offering them a chance to put their coursework into practice through a variety of community partnerships.

“As a Christian college, Eastern Nazarene is deeply committed to preparing students who are not only productive and successful, but also responsible,” said Karen Marshall, a faculty member in the Department of Social Work who will co-direct the center with fellow faculty members Stacey Barker (Department of Social Work) and Eric Severson (Division of Religion and Philosophy). “We seek to build on ENC’s tradition of charity and community involvement by creating a space for members of the ENC community to think critically about the ways in which they can act in solidarity with those who live life on the margins.

“We have a student body that is very interested in understanding the ways in which their faith informs how they engage in the world,” Marshall continued, “and the CRJ will offer them opportunities for both awareness and action.”

Working with faculty and administration, the CRJ staff is currently developing a new minor in social justice that will infuse the college’s General Education requirements with topics related to justice and responsibility. CRJ courses will cut across existing academic disciplines, addressing such topics as economics, justice and reconciliation, social policy, race and culture, and more.

“We are interested in ‘bookending’ the typical academic experiences with courses specifically designed to facilitate critical thinking about issues of justice,” Barker said. “Using the tools of formal education, we’ll encourage students to consider new ways of understanding how to engage in the world around them.”

The center has also established partnerships with schools and community organizations that will allow students to put their commitment to social justice into action. Through these initial partnerships, students will:

•mentor middle school-aged children from Germantown through a partnership with the Germantown Neighborhood Center
•assist and support CRJ in the development of H.O.P.E. Project, a community organizing initiative established in collaboration with Germantown neighborhood leaders
•work with third- and fourth-grade students at Dorchester’s Russell Elementary School as part of the Ten Boys Project, which seeks to address the educational achievement gap among black and Latino boys
•tutor and mentor high school students attending Action for Boston Community Development’s University High School
•serve as interns with Bronx Bethany Summer Camp, a Christian community corporation that seeks to live out its call to justice. CRJ will develop and teach a six-week social justice course held in conjunction with the camp.

CRJ also has launched a series of “knowledge caf‚s” ? informal discussions surrounding topical issues such as recent relief efforts in Haiti ? and plans are underway to create a themed living community for students interested in starting and expanding community gardens.

Ultimately, its founders said, they hope the Center for Responsibility and Justice will serve as a resource on social justice issues not only for the ENC campus, but the wider community as well. To that end, the center’s directors have begun organizing a conference for community activists. Scheduled for July 2011, the ROOTS Community Organizer Summit will bring together grassroots community leaders from across the Eastern seaboard.

“At its heart, CRJ longs to facilitate deep and meaningful conversations, both inside and outside of the ENC community,” Co-Director Eric Severson said. “We approach these conversations humbly; we are eager to listen and learn.”

For more information on ENC’s Center for Responsibility and Justice, visit www.thecrj.org.

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