Monday, October 15, 2012

American Culture Program will offer travel and firsthand look at social activism

The American Culture Program is taking applications from sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Randolph College who want to travel, study, develop critical thinking skills, build friendships, and discover the heart of social change in America.

This unique program provides an in-depth examination of the history, people, and issues that shape the culture of the United States. In the spring of 2013, the classes and travel opportunities will focus on the history of social activism.

The American Culture Program gives students the opportunity to
travel and learn about the nation's culture from firsthand experience.
“Students will develop an understanding of the deep social activist roots in the United States, the pains individuals undertake to create change, and an appreciation for their power to affect change,” said Julio Rodriguez, the American Culture Program director and a sociology professor at Randolph.

“It's really an invaluable learning tool,” Lori Lee, the Ainsworth Visiting Professor, who will teach in the American Culture Program in the spring. “Students are going to have the experience that they would get by studying abroad, but while looking at American culture.”

Caitlin Sheehan ’13 participated in the American Culture Program in 2011 after a friend who had previously participated recommended it to her. She said the experience changed her life and made her a better student.

“Academically, it helped me be able to push myself further. I never thought I would be able to study in this way,” Sheehan said. “It's not just spitting facts out on a page. It's creating new ideas, and presenting new ideas, to create a general understanding of what you think we're discussing shapes American culture.”

In the spring of 2013, the program will include four seminar classes on campus and several trips on which students will meet people involved with social activism and conduct firsthand research to discover more about the topic. The biggest trip will take students either to New Orleans to witness the social and economic shifts in the city since Hurricane Katrina, or to Chicago to learn about organized labor. Washington D.C. is the destination for one of the program’s shorter trips.

Want to join the American Culture Program next semester? Find the application in the Randolph College Portal in the "My Links" section. Submit your application by Oct. 29.
“We put students in touch with the people who are actually involved in what we are studying,” Rodriguez said. “When we talk about the coal industry and mountaintop removal, we talk to people who have actually been displaced by mountaintop removal.  Rather than simply reading about sex and sexuality, we’ve talked to sex workers. Rather than simply reading about leisure and the rise and fall of Atlantic City, we visited there and experienced that first-hand.”

The program always benefits from serendipity, too. Rodriguez said that the traveling group usually comes across something unexpected that adds to the experience. “We have been allowed back stage, literally and figuratively, in situations that we could not have foreseen,” he said. “We have bumped into Randolph graduates who have seen the van and have joined us for stretches of the travel. We have stumbled across experts that we didn’t know to turn to when we’re on the road.”

He recalled an unexpected meeting with a carnival worker when the program was exploring “The History of Leisure.” The worker took an interest in the program and offered the students a behind-the-scenes tour of a carnival. “Things like that happen like clockwork, but you never know when they’re going to happen.”