Rhetoric Course Lifts Students' Community Participation
When Quevaughn Caruth ’16 was just 15 years old, still in high school and living in New York City, he was arrested by a police officer for a crime he had not committed. The charges were later dropped, but the experience was not soon forgotten.
“That experience shook me up and stayed with me for a long time,” said the Bronx native, who is majoring in government at St. Lawrence University.
Enrolled in the Rhetoric and Citizenship class taught by Jessica Prody, assistant professor of performance and communication arts (PCA), Quevaughn wanted to help ease the tension between youths and police in his community. So, he decided to turn his personal experience and conviction into part of his class project for the fall 2015 semester.
Quevaughn planned to deliver a workshop at the National Action Network’s Youth Huddle, a youth empowerment group founded by Ashley Sharpton, daughter of Al Sharpton, in Harlem. Quevaughn has volunteered for the organization since he was 17, and his goal for the workshop was to help create mutual respect between the community and the police who patrol it.
“I wanted those who attended to understand their rights in a fun and interesting way but also understand the jobs police have to do,” said Quevaughn, who was recently named the Millennial Activist of the Year by the National Action Network. “I hope to change the stereotype of African Americans and reality, which I believe will affect the futures and the quality of life of minorities in general. With everything that’s happening nationally, I felt that this was the perfect time to spark a conversation.”
Prody’s class challenges students to identify an issue in a community, mostly in Canton and surrounding areas but also in their hometowns, and work throughout the semester to solve the problem.
“Their solution must be community-based, collaborative, ethical and sustainable,” she said. “The idea is to get students to recognize that they are citizens in a community and that they should engage and communicate their ideas and solutions.”
Kylie Shaw ’16 drew inspiration for her citizenship project from the national philanthropy organization Love Your Melon, an apparel company that fundraises for cancer research and support through sales of beanie hats and other knit items.
“I have a friend who is involved with Love Your Melon at Syracuse (University), and I really wanted to bring it to SLU as my service project,” said Kylie, a psychology and PCA major from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “We talk a lot in class about being active and our duty to help our community, and this really helps to find connections locally.”
As the former president of St. Lawrence’s Circle-K volunteer student organization, Kylie has teamed up with the club as Love Your Melon’s project leader. As she grows the project this year, she hopes to begin on-campus hat sales. For now, Kylie is working to garner support for Love Your Melon on- and off-campus through outreach and engagement.
“Rather than starting our own club, we’re utilizing other groups who want to help,” she said. “I’ve been working with online platforms like Facebook and Instagram to establish the club and make people aware of what we do.”
Beyond fundraising, the organization matches campus ambassadors with local cancer patients in the region, which is how she and her roommate Morgan McNeal ’16 of Beaufort, South Carolina, recently met Mylee Springer, a 7-year-old leukemia patient from Chaumont, New York.
“The visits with families are awesome,” Kylie said. “The connections we make draw on our main class question of what it means to be a good citizen. Love Your Melon branches off of this idea to help the community we, as students, live in for four years.”
Prody said she hoped the student projects also changed the perception of college students.
“They are building strong community relationships,” she said, “and countering the narrative that often gets created about SLU students by Canton residents.”
Quevaughn said he came away pleased by the outcome of his efforts.
“We performed a skit, where students acted out being the police and the pedestrian, and we had the students walk us through their experience of acting out the scenario,” he said. “Then, several shared their own personal experiences, which was extremely powerful and moving."
Read more in Quevaughn's blog "Know Yourself, Know Your Worth."
~Emma Cummings-Krueger '16 contributed to this story.