CLA 2005: Global Inequality and Transformative Citizenship

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When one comes to think of it, there are no such things as divine, immutable, or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim on them.
Hellen Keller

Course Description

Despite the fact that we live in an age of science, technology, globalization, and unprecedented economic affluence, widening poverty, hunger, homelessness, human displacement, violence, environmental degradation, and diseases such as AIDS continue to ravage millions around the globe. These challenges push many us to reflect on our responsibility to address social inequality and human suffering. Do individuals have a social and/or ethical responsibility to help others who are less fortunate and/or in distress? Do public universities such as the University of Minnesota have an obligation to help address social problems in the state of Minnesota and beyond? If so, how does an individual or institution respond to these challenges in a manner that is thoughtful, ethical, and effective? If not, what might be the social, economic, and psychological costs of modern inequalities not being addressed in a meaningful and durable fashion? This course is designed to provide students a space and process to reflect on these questions while exploring new global and participatory concepts of citizenship and democracy. The course aims to move us beyond seeing the oppressed and marginalized as solely victims through an exploration of the millions of civic organizations around the country and world that are finding new ways to achieve community, social justice, democracy, and environmental healing.

Community engagement is a central dimension of this class. More specifically, all students will complete a minimum of 20 hours of community engagement work in a setting approved by the instructor and the Center for Community-Engaged Learning. The community engagement component of the course allows participants to explore classroom concepts in the real world while developing valuable leadership, intercultural, and other professional skills. Community engagement is a way to move toward critical thinking, self-directed experiential learning, and testing theory in action. Students will critically interrogate how we interpret the social realities we enter through community engagement, how these meanings are talked about, and how they are negotiated among people who have unequal power relationships. The work and experience of the course will help students to develop a critical understanding of the limits and possibilities of charity, development, and social justice approaches to addressing social problems.