Taking Service Learning to New Orleans

A new multidisciplinary course about New Orleans being taught this semester by English professor James Mellis  has offered 12 University students a unique opportunity to focus on New Orleans culture and also travel to the city during spring break for a service learning experience.

The course, Hurricane and Rebirth: New Orleans Before and After Katrina examines the pre- and post-Katrina culture of the city, with an emphasis on recovery efforts after the storm.  Combining elements from academic disciplines such as English, sociology, political science, geography, and urban studies, the course is the first with a study trip component that will count towards the University’s three-credit graduation requirement to take a course in civic engagement.

For Mellis, the course is very personal. “When Katrina hit the city in 2005, I had just finished my doctorate at Tulane University there, and like millions of others, I watched in horror and despair the damage the storm caused, as well as the agonizingly slow response from local, state, and federal authorities,” he says. “Ten years later, the effects of the storm still reverberate in many communities. I thought this course might be an opportunity to introduce William Paterson students to the city and the challenges that both the storm and the rebuilding efforts brought to bear.”

During spring break, students traveled to New Orleans where they were hosted by the Center for Ethical Living and Civic Justice Renewal. They participated in rebuilding a home and a community clean-up, visited numerous cultural institutions, and attended lectures by historians, community activists, musicians, and documentarians. Students were required to keep a journal and to write a research paper on a New Orleans- or Katrina-based topic.

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