My Fall semester typically starts with the annual CESL Faculty Fellows retreat and tabling at UFest, the celebratory resource fair for students as they arrive on campus. This year I was happy to be in-person for both—a distinct difference from last August when all our events were remote and held online. Perhaps we are not starting this new academic year with the “normalcy” we were hoping for in the early summer, yet, these two events demonstrated to me what we might accomplish this semester by cultivating our enthusiasm for being back on campus, building a sense of hopefulness, and prioritizing a concern for safety. As I engaged with faculty to learn about the new service-learning courses they hoped to develop, and met with students enthused (and sometimes anxious) to be back on campus, the potential of in-person learning at UMass was palatable. And the care and concern everyone showed to each other was an inspiring counterpoint to the real concerns we face this Fall.
Clearly there will be a lot to navigate during our transition back to in-person work on campus. In addition, for CESL, the challenges and questions about what community engagement is like during this still very complex time will constantly need to be asked and—even partially and incompletely—answered through our actions. There will be a great need to restore and enhance our connections to community partners (some of whom we were unable to engage with last year), as well as to re-build community within our classrooms and across disciplines, units and departments. This re-connecting will be a high priority for all of us in CESL.
We are also committed to use this moment to not simply return to “normal,” but to create places of reflective learning and engagement that build on the social change movements that grew during the pandemic, and provide our students with opportunities to respond to today’s urgent challenges—growing inequality, structural racism, political and cultural polarization, and our climate crisis. Our hope is to build the capacity to support social and racial justice as our students construct civic lives that are full of purpose and meaning. We hope you can find ways to collaborate and connect with us this year and be a part of impactful and transformative civic engagement and service-learning at UMass Amherst.
Joseph Krupczynski, Director, Civic Engagement & Service-Learning / UMass Amherst