Office for Community Partnerships

Learning From Utopian Communities, Laborers and Hospitals

Benjamin Garst
May 16, 2024

Kuchinski, a Marilyn Yarbrough Dissertation Fellow and visting instructor of history, knew that her Spring 2024 special-topic history class, “U.S. Social Movements,” would be a perfect fit for the program. She arranged one in-depth field trip for her students to Zoar Village in Tuscarawas County, Ohio — a trip that classified her course as an entry-level CEL course.

Participating CEL courses are classified as entry level, moderate or immersive, based on the degree of community engagement involved. In entry-level courses, students hear from recurring speakers from the community and take field trips to community sites. Moderate-level courses include those same activities and also include volunteering experience for students, coupled with student reflection opportunities. Those courses designated as immersive include those same characteristics but at an exceptionally high level. Of the nearly 100 CEL-participating courses, there is a wide variety of department and immersion-level combinations. 

Established in the 19th century as a utopian community, Zoar Village was once home to a relatively radical separatist society that advocated for women’s rights and abolition. Kuchinski chose the trip to Zoar Village to give the students in her social movements course an opportunity to see first-hand a nearby community whose founding connects directly to the themes of the course. Students in her course explore the organization of social movements, how they handle successes and challenges, their legacies throughout U.S. history, and the diversity in gender, race, social class, religion, and olitical thought represented in these movements. Like many professors partnering with CEL, Kuchinski is hopeful that the tour and the CEL program will get students outside of their normal perspectives. 

While this course is her second to participate formally in the CEL program, Kuchinski has long encouraged her students to build bridges between themselves and those in the larger community. In the course “U.S. Labor and Working Class, ”offered in Fall 2023, students examined workers’ movements throughout the U.S., from the late 19th century to the modern day. Students explored how workers chose to influence their own working conditions and broader policy decisions through unions, worker collectives, coalitions with other community and religious groups, and worker centers. The course placed a special focus on workers who often fall outside of the main historical narrative — namely women, people of color, migrant workers, and workers in low-wage jobs — and the different obstacles and discriminations they faced. 

In one immersive project, students interviewed workers directly about their experiences. “I had my students reach out and interview somebody who was either in a labor union or was a working class person and just ask them about their experience,” said Kuchinski. “Then I had them write a reflection paper.”  

Other CEL courses classified at the immersive level place students directly in the community throughout the semester. In one such course, the biology department’s “Health Services and Biomedical Analysis, students spend more than 50 hours volunteering over the course of the semester in the Knox Community Hospital Emergency Department. In courses like this one, students in fields which often consist of lab work and intensive lectures can make meaningful connections with those in the Knox County community while seeing the concepts they learned in class put into action.

Participation in CEL courses is one way Kenyon meets its stated mission of helping students  “build strong foundations for lives of purpose and consequence.” From its humble origins with only a handful of classes, the program has grown to include about 100 courses, offered in departments ranging from economics to film. 

“It’s really fruitful for students to [better understand] what it’s like to be in a working class community because that’s what surrounds Kenyon,” Kuchinski said, noting that she  found it easy to adapt her courses to be CEL courses. “I don’t think there’s any class that can’t get involved in the community, whether it’s volunteering or incorporating a single, big learning experience.” Growing up nearby, Kuchinski has seen the value that CEL courses bring to students: “I think it’s really important to interact with the broader community.” CEL courses matter because students learn not only about the community, but from it.