photo of Vivian Somes and Sophia Leuma

The complexity of Hispanic-Latinx identity and culture melded with service and self-discovery to give students a transformative semester of learning.

BW cultural immersion course sparks introspection, service

May 10, 2022

Eighteen students. Three organizations. Eighty-plus hours of service. One professor who empowered his students to challenge their presuppositions and immerse themselves in 15 weeks of cultural awareness, appreciation and engagement.

The end result — a transformative course that not only brought together the anthropology, history and culture of the Hispanic and Latinx U.S. experience but also gave students a conduit for self-discovery and the rewards of service.

Challenging their perspectives, gaining career experience

photo of Vivian Somes and Sophia LeumaService-learning and reflections were an integral part of the course, which fulfilled diversity requirements for the BW core. Also enriching to the experience was the diverse compilation of students, whose hometowns, life experiences, academic pursuits and range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds sparked thought-provoking discussions. 

Among the students was Sophia Leuma '23, a mathematics major and a Spanish minor from Bloomington, Minnesota, who did her service-learning with ArtHouse's Urban Bright program that brings art into Cleveland schools. 

"At Douglas MacArthur Academy and Wilbur Wright Elementary School, I assisted the teacher in distributing art materials to the students and supervising the activity. I spent time getting to know these students and shared information about myself as well," she said. 

"While at Wilbur Wright, I also read 'The House on Mango Street' aloud to the class. I read the Spanish version of the novel, and my classmate, Vivian Somes '24, read the English version. We engaged the students in a discussion about this coming-of-age story that follows the perspective and experiences of a young Chicana girl living in a close-knit community in Chicago," noted Leuma. 

photo of Bryce Kessler"Through the service-learning experience, I could see the amazing impact this program has on the community and the lives of the children and staff. Inspiring expression and creativity through mediums of art can be so effective in allowing students to have fun and demonstrate their artistic abilities. I am open to becoming a teacher in the future, so having experience leading a group of students is exactly what I would be doing as an educator," she mentioned. 

For Somes, the service-learning component helped her to better understand the course content, learn about Cleveland's Hispanic and Latinx populations, and expand her insights. 

"I love that BW offers courses that challenge my perspective on the world and provide insight into complex issues that I may have otherwise missed out on. Allowing students in the class to pick their own service-learning made the work we did more impactful because we picked a project that sparked our individual interests," emphasized the Pittsburgh resident majoring in digital media and design

Bryce Kessler '22 also found his service-learning rewarding. The Cincinnati native majored in arts management and entrepreneurship and theatre acting and directing with the goal of becoming an artistic director of a non-profit arts organization. He assisted with grant writing for LatinUs Theater Company

"I think LatinUs has a lot to offer, and I'm excited to be a conduit between grant money and its new, exciting programming. I believe this experience will benefit me professionally by being able to add another written grant to my portfolio and make new connections in the Cleveland arts scene," he said.

Building pathways into Northeast Ohio

"This course introduced students to the rich diversity of Hispanic and Latinx cultures here in the U.S. But students also benefited from sharing their own unique lived experience with the class while engaging with this particular history and culture," noted Dr. Matthew Feinberg, assistant professor of Spanish. 

photo of Dr. Matthew Feinberg"The majors in the class included neuroscience, accounting, Spanish, music theatre, computer science and arts management and  entrepreneurship, among others. The students come from a range of cultural, geographic and linguistic backgrounds," he went on to say. 

"Hearing students' personal experiences with assimilation, cultural identity and linguistic identity enabled all of us to see and understand things through a lens that is perhaps different from our own," he continued. "And while we focused on the complexity of Hispanic and Latinx identity and culture, the takeaway is so much more universal. By using their critical thinking skills and building cultural awareness, students had an opportunity for introspection and experiences I believe will help them in that lifelong process of becoming compassionate and caring citizens of a global world — a process that is at the heart of BW's mission.

"Partnering with ArtHouse, LatinUs Theater and Comité Mexicano broadened not only the perspectives of the students who engaged in service-learning with these organizations but also built important collaborative relationships with community partners that hold great potential for future BW classes as we expand our role in Northeast Ohio. Having Cleveland only 20 minutes from campus provides a rich learning environment for all disciplines," emphasized Feinberg.