Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Op-Ed: Lang to City: “Not Tonight, Honey, I’m Tired.”

Sam Lewis

By Emily Alexander

The key to all lasting, nurturing relationships is reciprocation. I service you, you service me. Sadly, The New School and the majority of the student body do not put this theory into practice when it comes to their intimate relations with the city of New York.

Despite considering themselves politically and socially active, few students participate in community service projects, and those that do receive no recognition from the school for their efforts. The New School has no service-learning department and there are no regularly scheduled volunteer events through the Office of Student Development and Activities.

The blame falls to the disorganized and inadequate administration, which is not to say some administrators are completely insensitive. As Eugene Lang expands, efforts are being made to install more community-related or service-based programs. Ella Turrene, the Director of Special Projects at Eugene Lang, is the sole overseer of these projects, which include the “I Have A Dream” Elementary Education program, the alternative Spring Break trip to Biloxi, MS to work with Habitat for Humanity, and the Newly formed Lang Outdoors division, which offer P/F courses based on community involvement.

The work Ella does is inspiring, but it is too much for any one person. (She did not respond to a number of emails asking for comment.) Case in point: the trip to Biloxi was barely publicized and cost a hefty $330, important information organizers chose not to release until the day of sign-ups.

The disorganized way that the few available service programs are being managed makes it difficult for students to participate. Most courses with a service component are geared toward education or urban studies concentrators and request several semesters of commitment. Also, Lang Outdoors programs involve a substantial amount of dedication for courses that are not even graded.

There should be regular weekly or monthly, free or low-cost community service programs open to the entire New School community. These programs should not be formatted as courses requiring intensive work or long-term commitments, but instead as fun, interesting and voluntary events. They should be designed for passionate students wanting to give something back and get a different experience of the city, or just for students needing to fulfill community service hours for a traffic/subway ticket or marijuana possession citation.

I hear daily complaints about the lack of community among Lang students. Lang-organized service opportunities would encourage students to interact more with one another outside of class. There could also be New School sanctioned scholarships or increased financial aid for students that participate or show a strong dedication to the program or community work in general.

For students still looking for ways to get involved, I suggest the following alternatives:

Food Not Bombs prepares and serves vegan food for the homeless in Tompkins Square Park. Visit ABC No Rio (156 Rivington St.) Friday or Sunday at 1 p.m. to cook and 3 p.m. to serve.

New York City Cares offers various projects at all times throughout the boroughs, including volunteer services at museums or programs to teach kids how to use cameras. Inquire about working at one for the LES Gardens, who often need weekend volunteers to garden.

The Park Slope Food Co-op (782 Union St. in Brooklyn) can lead to 40% grocery savings. It's not quite volunteering, but improving the community nonetheless.

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