A New Learning Community will Better Prepare Students to Work in Urban Communities
As GSEP's Urban Initiative continues to build capacity to serve urban communities, faculty members are developing a learning community for Urban Fellows (UFP). Students in the new program will be awarded a certificate signifying their participation in the UFP.
The Urban Fellows program will better prepare students to work effectively in urban communities, according to GSEP psychology professor Dr. Daryl Rowe. "Urban has become synonymous with 'inner-city' in the past two decades, and it speaks to the parts of our community that are underserved, undereducated, and under-resourced," Rowe said. "Residents often suffer from poverty, discrimination, limited basic public services, and overcrowded yet underfunded schools. In addition, there is a significant level of alienation; frustration and loss of hope for the future; and an increasingly insensitive, victim-blame analysis from the larger society."
According to Rowe, most of the tools developed in both education and psychology tend to emerge from the study of middle-class Anglo participants.Graduate students also frequently lack sufficient exposure to a more diverse set of educational or psychological consumers, struggle with negative, preconceived notions of their clients or pupils, or feel intimidated by the severity of distress levels or variance of values. "Thus, the overwhelming challenge is to validate the humanity of urban residents—to see within the struggles or dilemmas of these residents the same motivations for a better life that our students hold."
The Urban Fellows program will include several key strategies. "First our students must be exposed to the differing realities of urban environments and become cognizant of the damaging impacts of poverty," commented Rowe. "In addition, our students need to examine and explore their preconceptions—both positive and negative—that influence how they might approach their work with urban residents. Lastly, our students need more exposure to the complex interplay of economic, educational, family, and cultural issues, and the possible impact of those issues on their capacity to provide quality service."
In July 2007 members of GSEP's Urban Initiative workgroup met with community partners to design the UFP learning community structure. Working across disciplines and programs, participants outlined the components of a systematic program for GSEP Urban Fellows, designed to bring them into relationships as members of a learning community.
Participants included representatives from the Los Angeles Job Corps Center, the Union Rescue Mission, educators and parents from the Southgate School District, and GSEP alumni working in urban environments.
The meeting was the first time these urban partners met each other as well as GSEP faculty working on other Urban Initiative projects. It also marked the first time GSEP alumni were brought into the work of the Urban Initiative.
"I think the Fellows program will help our students in their overall career development because they will strengthen beliefs, attitudes, and values that respect human differences; enhance their intellectual and critical-thinking abilities; increase their interactive skills with a broader cross-section of potential consumers; and develop cultural humility "the ability to respect the validity and the inherent legitimacy of various cultural perspectives," Rowe said.
GSEP dean Dr. Margaret Weber added, "We believe that not only will our students benefit from the increased support that comes from being a member of a learning community, but it will also bring our community partners and alumni together with the potential to make their work more reflective and responsive."