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Sue Robinson

Journalism for Racial Justice joins Service Learning courses for Spring 2016

Posted Nov 11, 2015


A new course will be offered next semester that will encourage students to develop an appreciation for the grassroots connection between journalism, local community and democracy. This Service Learning course is titled Journalism for Racial Justice: Amplifying Voices in our Communities and will be taught by Professor Sue Robinson of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Service Learning courses, which have been a tradition at UW-Madison for decades, are just like other credit-based classes on campus, but they also require students to commit at least 25 hours outside of normal classroom time to a community partner. Students' on-site experiences with their community partners are directly linked to class subject matter and help the students better digest and gain real world insights. In turn, the students offer a service to their community partner's organization.

Robinson’s course is among 50 official Service Learning courses being offered next semester.

Professor Robinson has been planning and developing J475: Journalism for Racial Justice for multiple years now. The inspiration for the class came from Robinson’s desire to turn professional development work in race and media into a valuable addition to the journalism curriculum. She saw the need for professional communicators to understand the connections between race, networks and journalism.

A large goal of the class is to teach students to have a keen sense of civic responsibility in their roles as professional communicators. Robinson sees the importance for students to understand the changing demographics of Wisconsin and the world, as well as the digital needs of these marginalized communities.

The class aims to help students understand how professional communicators can collaborate with community partners in the course of producing stories to inform society. But in addition, the course aims to improve on how conversations about race play out in a local community like Madison, says Robinson.

Students in the class will participate in a number of different projects with different community partners. Projects include training Madison middle and high school students in journalism, helping amplify voices through collaborations with local media and exploring changes in communicative infrastructures.

Creating a new course is not easy work though, especially when it comes to Service Learning. Not only did Robinson face normal challenges that come with developing a course (negotiating the timetable, developing the structure of the course, working with a tight lab schedule, etc.) but she also faced many logistical concerns when working on how to get students into meaningful relationships with community partners. Robinson says that being flexible was key since she was collaborating with input from outside the university.

Robinson did not have to face these challenges alone though. Along with a Faculty Professional Development Grant, she also received support from the Morgridge Center for Public Service. The Morgridge Center has many resources available for faculty developing Service Learning courses. In particular, Robinson found the Morgridge Center’s logistical and transportation support considerably helpful.

Robinson’s advice to those looking to develop a Service Learning course? Talk to others who have done Service Learning courses before, talk about barriers and challenges that you will possibly face and appreciate the spirit of Service Learning by letting the community organization lead with their needs.

Over 30 majors are offering Service Learning courses for spring 2016. Students can search the full listing of courses here.

Faculty interested in teaching a Service Learning course can find out more about all the resources the Morgridge Center has to offer here.