A program at Northern Arizona University encourages students to use their own life experiences to develop community projects. Students with NAU’s Campus and Community Based Action Research Teams are digging deep within themselves to recall significant events, even painful ones like domestic violence or abuse, and use them to connect with the community. Lauren Berutich is the program coordinator.
“They learn how to tell their own public narrative in connection to themselves in a bigger community environment. And through that identification of passion they learn how to develop relationships with community members, with each other in the classroom, with their faculty and staff. They learn how to power map and identify resources in the community, and we teach them this public work through grassroots organizing so that they can take their passions and create change in a really positive way,” Berutich says.
Students write about their experiences and then draw from them ways they can reach out to the community. Inspired projects have included creating a community garden, registering students to vote and even fundraising so that one Flagstaff neighborhood could have a school bus.
“The best part is that it works, is that the students are engaged, that they become confident individuals, that they truly believe that they can make a difference, and that they do and they see it. And that I’m watching Flagstaff transform … I think these students are saying, ‘I count,’” says Berutich.
She says the core idea of the Action Research Teams is for students to understand what’s important to them and then use it to create social, political or environmental change.