New College and the Cross-College Alliance in the Community

Guest Correspondence


What role should colleges or universities play in the local communities in which they are located?

Of course, different institutions have different missions, so no single answer to this question could apply to every institution. Most individuals agree that universities should focus on educating students and, in some cases, research. But it does not follow, as some maintain, that a university has no obligation to the city or region in which it happens to be located.

In fact, the local institutions that comprise the Cross-College Alliance (CCA): New College of Florida, Ringling College of Art and Design, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, The Ringling Museum and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee owe their existence to the communities in which we are located. The health of our institutions depends on the health of our communities, and each of the CCA institutions encourages students and staff to participate in community service.

These efforts will receive a huge boost from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s award last month to New College of Florida of $750,000 to fund a five-year project entitled New College and the Cross-College Alliance in the Community. The project will support curricular and research initiatives at the CCA institutions to preserve local history, integrate social and racial justice work into artistic practice and teaching, and explore questions of special interest to the local community. Dr. Bill Woodson at New College will direct the project and establish a new Office for Community Outreach and Engagement at New College to coordinate activities and foster collaboration at the different institutions.

As part of this project, the CCA institutions will develop new courses largely aimed at first-year students that involve substantive community engagement and reflection on that community engagement. The first offering of each course will be co-taught by two faculty members, possibly from different institutions, one of whom teaches in the humanities or arts, and one of whom has some prior experience in community engagement. Some examples may include a course at New College in which students focus on preserving the history of Newtown and its distinctive heritage as one of the few remaining historic African-American communities in Florida. In another course, students might study the impact of new development on neighborhoods in Sarasota and Bradenton. Another proposed course involves a partnership with the Florida Center for Partnerships in Arts Integrated Teaching (PAInT Center) at USF Sarasota-Manatee and the Youth Experiencing Arts program at RCAD.

Another part of the project imagines the construction of a joint program whereby students at CCA institutions cycle through internships or community service projects that expose them to different community-serving professions. Common to all activities of the grant is the goal of embedding community service into the academic, curricular cores of our institution. Ultimately, we seek to erase the false dichotomy between educating students and serving one’s community. We imagine a future in which the strategic deployment of the economic, human and intellectual capital of our institutions to better the welfare of our hometown communities will fully align with our educational missions.

I, for one, can hardly wait to see how this will play out.

For now, I’m very grateful to the local foundations that provided the seed funding for the CCA, and to the Mellon Foundation for this most recent award that will allow us to build on their previous award in 2016 for the project New College: Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast. This extraordinary support indicates that others see the tremendous potential in collaboration among our institutions and the wonderful communities of which we are a part.

Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.

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