Melting Fences: A GA's Perspective on Community Service Learning
I am a first year Doctoral student and Doctoral Graduate Assistant at the Center for Community Service-Learning here on Campus. I would define the Center as… a hub for learning by making sense of oneself and the world through the development of meaningful relationships in the community.
Through this unique Center, students have the opportunity to connect with their creativity and passion, as well as to develop, grow and learn by engaging deeply with the community. In many cases, if those experiences are embedded as part of a class, students are encouraged to reflect and connect the experiential learning they acquire, with what they are learning at a theoretical level in the classrooms.
My experience at the center so far has been outstanding! At the heart of what we do are relationships, continuous self-reflection and critical thinking. Personally, through my work at CSL I have been able to bring together many of my passions, which include: experiential learning, social justice, and community and adult development through the exercise of leadership.
A recent experience I had at the center is the Border Immersion Trip based in San Diego that we offered at the beginning of this month. This trip was open to freshman students who are engaged in the new Social Justice Living and Learning Communities. The trip was to arise awareness on the migrant journey and immigration issues, which become especially relevant in a border city as San Diego. We started up at USD, drove all the way down to the border and visited the just reopened Friendship Park. We had the opportunity to engage in conversations with labor migrants and to learn from their impactful stories. I was energized by seeing the students engage and allow themselves to be moved and surprised.
One of the most meaningful moments for me was the visit to Friendship Park, a park along the United States-Mexico border in San Diego–Tijuana where friends and family can meet, despite nationality. The wall in the park has been recently covered with a thick, dense mesh that is difficult to see through. Instead of holding hands, people can just barely touch the tips of their fingers through openings in the steel wire. In fact, you can only see people on the other side as shadowy figures.
I was standing there and wanting to connect to the people on the Mexican side. I felt a need to talk to them and I also felt a pull away from them. What was pulling me away? Shyness, the idea that I didn’t want to bother them, the idea that I didn’t really know them… All this chatter was part of my experience. As I connected to the present, the chatter faded, and was able to step up. As I talked to Mari, I felt compelled to touch her. My hand was on the wall, the same way so many people’s hands are, waiting to be touched. As we were saying bye to each other, she touched the tip of my finger through the fence. I might want to go back and tell her, she didn’t only touch the tip of my finger, she touched my soul, and as I sensed her, the fence between us melted.
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Maria, thanks for sharing your experience. I have had the opportunity to visit Friendship Park and still have very clear memories of how it felt to be in a place with the most divisive structure I have ever witnessed. It is inspiring to hear that you were able to make a meaningful connection with Mari.