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Conversation #44: Eileen Doll on Service Learning

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Eileen Doll

A conversation with Dr. Eileen Doll of Loyola University on teaching, learning, and service learning.

Eileen J. Doll received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Purdue University in 1986, specializing in Spanish 20th-century literature and the 20th-century theater of Europe. She has published numerous articles on various contemporary dramatists of Spain, and early 20th-century playwrights, in the journals Estreno, Gestos, Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporánea, Hispania, Signa, La Ratonera, Crítica Hispánica, South Central Review, and Discurso Literario, as well as in collections of essays.

Eileen Doll teaches all areas of Peninsular Spanish Literature and Culture, as well as introductory, intermediate, and advanced Spanish language classes at Loyola University New Orleans. In May 2008, she received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences.

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J. Tuman: Hi. this is Jeremy Tuman of Xavier University of Louisiana. I’m sitting here with Dr. Eileen Doll of Loyola University, professor of Spanish and Chairperson of Languages and Cultures. First thing, talk to me a little about your role or roles in regards to service learning here at Loyola.

E. Doll: I've been on the committee, for a number of years, about eight years. I've been teaching courses that have community engagement and doing internships with students for 20 years. But really under the umbrella of service learning, for about 15 years. Starting off slowly, I’ve done a couple of class service learning projects. And in many of those classes, I’ve had them connected with service learning agencies for 15 to 20 hours usually.

J. Tuman: Very good. Will you talk a little more about your recent service learning course.

E. Doll: Yes. I have one this semester that I’ve done several times. It’s a semester Spanish class. In that class, they have the option of doing service learning in Spanish-speaking communities or they can do alternate assignment for the semester. I think one of the difficulties with the optional service learning is trying to find something comprehensible that they would have to dedicate at least 20 hours to. But some students actually want to get in the community especially with a language class, because they have been studying language so they feel this disconnect between what they study in class and what happens in the real world. And they’ll come into a intermediate class and say I just want to speak it. But you need to have to have grammar as well, you have to able to read, you need vocabulary and all that. So it’s important to me to be able to give them that opportunity to apply that in the Spanish-speaking communities. And we actually have agencies on my list this time. I have 16 in my class and 5 of them opted for the service learning. And they are all going to the same agency because I decided that would be good for them. In previous semesters I’ve had them at five different agencies. For students that are taking Spanish, they are often not using Spanish when they are doing this, but I tell them, think about what you’re learning in class and how language functions. And what is it that you’re learning and how are you seeing that in what you’re doing for service. And two times in the semester, they have to do a service learning reflection where I give them questions in Spanish. How did you feel in the beginning? What was the mixture like? Were you working with mostly men, or women, or children? And then the second reflection gets into more social injustice. Who was in power? Why do these people have to learn English? How can your service learning change people’s lives? I do it with them in Spanish, and I have done this in English with different goals in mind.

J. Tuman: That leads nicely into my next question, thinking about these reflections on social injustice and power dynamics, do you feel like universities have a moral responsible to teach students things like civic engagement, a sense of social justice, or competencies targeted by social learning?

E. Doll: The answer is yes. One of our mission goals is to prepare students to be people with and for others. Part of that is social justice. And I think at Xavier this is one thing we can do. I don’t know if it’s required at other universities but I believe part of the experience is that they are thinking about moral and social justice issues. Reach out to others and see them as people rather than problems in society. I do think that can be difficult to do in some classes. Like if you are teaching grammar, you chose your textbook carefully. The vocabulary can help a bit. I did a seminar for the first year honor program for incoming problems. And we talked about cultural assimilation and we talked about ethnic groups moving into neighborhoods and how that affects the neighborhood and the immigrants. There was a topic where we looked at medieval Spain and the three different ethnic groups that lived there at the time and how they shared culture and the resistance that came up. Then we moved to the 1800s New Orleans. We visited St. Bernard Parish, we visited the museum, we fixed jambalaya. And compared most of it. And the projects students did was they created a Powerpoint presentation for the museum and students talked about the comparisons they studied. And then we discussed it in class frequently, in social issues, how do people accept other cultures and to what extent. And then we talked about contemporary issues.

J. Tuman: So aside from the need to understand history and the assimilation, what are some other areas of social need in particular in New Orleans that social learning can provide?

E. Doll: In other classes, I’ve done different kinds of things. Another honors seminar we talked about intermediality. I had them do a required service learning with different placements and agencies and they each had to find an agency that would work with the arts. And there are lots of neighborhood communities. One of them I had at least a couple of students work there. And what they did was they interacted with students who have nowhere to go after school because their parents are still working. And they go there for tutoring and so they can unwind. And one of the students tried really hard to get the kids to look at some more interactive arts online. So they would look at music videos and then they would discuss them not just looking at them. And I think the idea is that you can get them into agencies around town that are nonprofit and run by people who don’t get paid very much and our students very dedicated to this. Many of our students and we have a lot of African American students that want to interact with the students whether they are from here or not because they want to help and understand where they are coming from. We have the Catholic Charities do a couple of Head Start programs where they read to kids and play games with them and give them somebody else to talk to and see a role model. We had them work with second graders where they tutor them. We had students work with arts programs that work well with our music students because they can go in and teach them musical skills are play for them. We even had a student who was a Spanish major and a theater major who worked with Project Lazarus. She taught them how to be actors and to then connect their stories to literature and readings that they were performing. So she set up that whole program for them. I also had students volunteering at Hope House which is a hotel for people and family members for cancer treatment at Ochsner and two of them were music majors so they asked if it would be okay for them to do a concert for the family members at the inn. So the students are very creative and they see the needs when they do the service. Especially if they are proactive. And sometimes you have to nudge them to do things. And not all students are fully equipped to being proactive. So also have a evaluation that is done by the agency for each student at the end of the semester. And that is now factored into the grade we give them for the service percentage. I also have a class I’ll be teaching in the fall again called “Immigration.” It’s an advanced Spanish class but 25% of it was service learning based. And the entire semester they did several compositions. Through the course of the semester, I brought in guest speakers. Some of the speakers were from the agencies they were doing it in and we talked about it more in that class more than any class I’ve ever done because it was an essential part of the course. In other classes, it’s a little bit harder to get the discussion going but I did give them a service learning option and the topic of the course was science and technology versus tradition and religion. They all had to find a position in an agency where they had something to do with technology. And it was as basic as a couple of them were working the phone line for Second Harvest. Others were doing the computer tutoring with people at some of the other agencies. And some were going to the Wage clinic and they did computer input as people were brought in for their complaints and then typed up letter. And then we talked about them in class. What are some of the traditional obstacles in the way of technology? So you have to be creative. And things like English and grammar it’s sort of a no-brainer but you have to know how to apply it and you also have to figure out how to arrange the class. I did not want to make mine a requirement because sometimes it's hard for the students because they don't always have extra time. The biggest challenge for me is if they don’t do that, what are they going to do that can still be comprehensible. And you still want them to write. You still want them to reflect. The ones doing service are doing more work but at the same time, they aren’t doing any outside research. They just go, do their service, come home and reflect on it. It's just a different kind of time spent.

J. Tuman: How are these optional courses listed in the catalog? Do they know they are coming into a optional service learning course?

E. Doll: As long as we put it up there, and there are deadlines. There’s a notice. It says “Service learning optional” if it’s an option, or “Service learning required” if it is a requirement. Then the student can click on the syllabus and see what does it say. And most of the time they don’t look at it carefully. But there is documentation, you must sign a waiver form with service learners, you must turn in your hours twice a week during the semester.

J. Tuman: Thinking more broadly for a minute, they can have a lot of positive effects in the community but some of the criticisms I’ve heard regarding service learning is that the stakeholders or the participants can at times perpetuate the status quo, so what are the best ways for service learners and stakeholders to really affect positive social change and avoid those pitfalls of perpetuating status quo?

E. Doll: I think a lot of it has to come out in reflection. What you do in class and in written form. That's one of the reasons why I invite some people from the agencies to come speak. One of the things I like to ask in my reflections is how is their community different than yours? How is their background different from your background and how does that affect you? Some of them I can see get the idea that they are helping someone but they are not necessarily helping the situation. And you can see that they’re not getting it in their reflections and that can be a topic of discussion in class. I usually ask all of my students how things are going in the service. What have you been doing? And I think it’s really good with the optional service learning because people who didn’t do the service learning get the chance to hear about it. Also interesting because, they were people who changed their minds and you can see how they start out as these people are coming. We need to enforce our borders and we can’t let everyone in. And so we start talking about well what can we do? And because of the work they were doing in the service agencies, they were getting different aspects of it. So there were all types of issues that came out due to the connection with the community. Then I had people from the Congress of Day Laborers and they had questions for them at the end. So they get more into the social justice that way. The student at the daycare center isn't going to get any of this. So you have different aspects of it.

J. Tuman: The guest speakers seem to be a key component and how you shape those reflections are important.

E. Doll: And actually on our service learning page, we have some resources for the reflections. And I do know, we looked at some examples in class of problems in volunteering versus service learning and social injustices. And I’m sure we would be able to share those. I think that one of the challenges we have now is everyone has had cuts and cuts and people have been given retirement incentives so we are kind of down to asking people to do service learning. People who have been doing it do it, but getting new people isn’t happening right now. Some people who normally do it have to choose so we found that the number of course offerings are down. Some people who used to do it are retired also. Plus we don’t want too many people to do it either.

J. Tuman: Yeah, I think professors nearing the end of their careers, may be curious about it. But if they’re enticed to early retirement, then they’re not here to learn about those things. But I thank you. That’s all I have for today. Thank you for your time.

E. Doll: No, thank you, I like talking about service learning.

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