Developing Community-Engaged Courses

Developing Community-Engaged Courses, Tel-Aviv, December 15, 2010


The study day aimed to introduce Campus-Community Partnership, expose participants to two projects supported by the Partnership, and discuss possible initiatives in the field of community-engaged courses.


For the invitation in Hebrew, press here.



Presentation: Planning With Communities – the Case of Jaffa Gimel

Prof. Tovi Fenster and Architect Tal Kulka

Department of Geography and the Human Environment, Tel-Aviv University

Course: Planning, Sustainability and Human Rights Clinic


Prof. Tovi Fenster and Architect Tal Kulka presented the clinic, which is supported partially by Campus-Community Partnership, and partially by foundations. The funding by the Partnership is allocated mostly for student scholarships. This year, the university considered the course a research seminar, and respectively increased its credit points to 3 credit points. Students participating in the clinic are graduate students from the Department of Geography and the Human Environment, and undergraduate students from the Faculty of Law and from the Faculty of Management. The course integrates theoretical study, training, and fieldwork.


The course includes:

  • Application of bottom-up planning models – planning with the community.
  • Advancement of affordable housing projects, urban renewal design mechanisms and partnership with communities.
  • Work with the municipality, residents, and private entrepreneurs.
  • Action for practical and strategic change – change in everyday life and in-depth change in power relations.


This is the clinic's third year of implementation, and knowledge has been accumulated and transferred from year to year.


The clinic implements three projects: Jaffa Gimel, the Nevi'im (prophets) site in Bat-Yam, and Shem HaGedolim project in Jaffa. Each week students attend a theoretical-academic lesson, in which students are divided into three groups, each guided by a faculty member. During class the groups share and reflect upon their experiences. At the end of the course students submit a research paper that integrates theory and practice.


Background on the projects:


Jaffa Gimel – Residents of four buildings in the neighborhood turned to the clinic due to the fact they received "warrant #3" – requiring them to undergo "renovation at the cost to the residents" – a requirement they could not afford. With assistance of the clinic a solution was formulated – creating a partnership with a private entrepreneur, and transforming the project into a profitable one. It was found that adding two stories to each building would make the investment of structural reinforcement worthwhile. Yet, such a program may be problematic as the municipality might not issue a permit for the construction of two additional stories. Such a permit might set a precedent the municipality would reject. Students of the clinic suggested that the two additional stories would serve as dormitories for students of the Tel-Aviv-Jaffa Academic College, and this special position would allow the municipality to issue a permit for the plan. At this stage the clinic is guiding the residents through the planning and renovation process. One success of the program is the fact that the architectural plan submitted by the construction entrepreneur significantly changed as a result of resident involvement. The clinic's role is to represent the residents in their contacts with the municipality and the entrepreneur, and to position them as the principal target population of the project. In addition, the contractor has repaired the defects for which the municipality issued the warrant, which has now been removed.


Hanevi'im Site, Bat Yam – A project in which residents are evacuated from their homes and the buildings are renovated or demolished and new ones are built. The project is in its final stages. In fact, the municipality thought to involve the residents only at a later stage of the project, towards the end. The residents turned to the clinic, whose faculty and students are now investigating how to present their interests to the contractor that is already working at the site.


Shem Hagedolim Project, Jaffa – The clinic represents the residents in relation to different legal claims made by the municipality. Residents in the area suffer from different problems including poverty, bad health and other hardships. The clinic is advancing a holistic perspective according to which the problems are connected to one another. The clinic began to address the legal aspects of the residents' problems, and these days is also beginning to establish a community garden. Residents of this area are extremely underprivileged, and therefore scarcely turn to help. In this project the clinic is stressing the improvement of the environment while the original residents remain in their place.

Prof. Fenster and Architect Kulka stated that the residents of Jaffa Gimel and Shem Hagedolim are families and individuals who have been evacuated in the past.


Dilemmas that are raised throughout work in the clinic – questions related to representation between the residents and the enrepreneurs; "covert" participation in projects of outsourcing – what is the clinic's role in this?; questions of trust/loyalty: between the residents and the projects; short term change versus long term change; the special position of planning in the course. 


At the end of the presentation a discussion developed, during which several points were raised:

Questions raised by the audience related to the students' role in the project – what is required of them and what do they receive/gain from this involvement. In reply to these questions the faculty members answered that students have class once every two weeks, and that once every two weeks they have a meeting with their advisor. Throughout this time they are also active in the field. These projects are innovative and original and require students who are an additional resource for thought and knowledge. The average student does not have many opportunities for such encounters with the community, while in most cases studies are overly theoretical and do not provide room for applying what is learnt in reality. Within the framework of the clinic students receive a certificate of practical training that can later serve them in the labor market. Students learn how to communicate with faculty and students from other professional disciplines, as planning involves interdisciplinary work.


Relating to the characteristics of the fieldwork, Fenster and Kulka mentioned that there are differences between the projects. In Jaffa Gimel, for example, it was necessary to go from home to home with the entrepreneur's plan and listen to the residents ideas and opinions. There are also general meetings for all residents of each building and each entrance. The frequency of the meetings with residents changes according to the project and the work stage. The students are in touch with the residents also by phone, and sometimes personal relationships are formed.

The faculty members spoke of "strategic change" – feeling that changes are taking place, residents are taking initiative, and that the projects are encouraging them to become more involved and be continually aware of what is going on. The teams of the clinic work hard to build local representation.


An additional point during the discussion related to a fear that the work of students with underprivileged residents might be of a patronizing character. The faculty members mentioned that this is an issue that the students themselves are occupied with. The personal encounter, they said, restricts or limits the patronizing position, although it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be completely rid of this position. For example, they spoke of an uncertainty raised by one of the students – whether to write the protocol of the resident meeting on her lap top or by hand. Fenster and Kulka said they told her to do as she thinks is most appropriate and comfortable for her, and that it is alright for her to have a lap top. These types of issues are many times raised in class. Students do come with judgmental attitudes in relation to the residents, but once they know the stories behind the individuals, these attitudes tend to change.


Concluding the discussion, a question was raised whether it is not worthwhile to allow students to initiate their own projects. Fenster and Kulka replied that in their view it is a great idea but very different from what is currently done in the clinic. Organizing a new project takes time and it is difficult for every student to create his or her own idea each year. Often projects are continuous, while new students are integrated in the project each year.



Presentation: The Academy as a Platform for Social Change – the Haifa Partnership

Dr. Roni Strier

Department of Social Work, University of Haifa

Course: Methods for Community Organizing: The Haifa Partnership for the Eradication of Poverty


Dr. Strier presented the project "The Haifa Partnership for the Eradication of Poverty", a project which integrates the academic community, professional community (social workers of the public social services) and residents of underprivileged neighborhoods of Haifa. The project is based on the course "Community Social Work" which is considered a mandatory course (and is divided into several sub-courses, one of which is the participation in the project). In the past few years, the profile of project participants has not been defined, but there has been an equal proportion of Jewish and Arab participants. Students meet once every three weeks with a facilitator who guides their work, and are involved in the Center for Research on Poverty at the University of Haifa. In addition, they are active twice a week in work teams in the neighborhoods, work teams that integrate students, residents, and social workers. Work teams are currently concentrating on issues of electricity, food-safety, and affordable housing. Each work team is also involved in statewide coalitions in related issues. At the end of the year each work team produces a report that is then widely disseminated to decision makers. Further, as part of the project, conferences are organized, brining together all participants in the project and in related programs, and all stakeholders who are not necessarily directly involved.


The project's main objectives are:

  1. Creating communities of knowledge.
  2. Promoting solidarity in and between communities.
  3. Developing knowledge for social change.
  4. Developing young leadership for social change. From the outset, the project was formed in partnership with the social services in Haifa in order to influence the public service system and not to replace it.


The project is directed according to the following principles: partnership between all stakeholders while reducing hierarchies; engagement – learning how to "get dirty", and how to contend with mistakes and uncertainties; conscientization – instilling a "social conscience" in students and in all other partners in the project.


As part of the project we demand from students to "think big" in specific contexts – radical thought while proposing immediate solutions to everyday problems. We ask to develop practical knowledge that may be used in the field.


Following the presentation of the course, Dr. Strier added that although social work is "in his blood stream", he did not receive much support from the university, and not even within his department. He mentioned that the Campus-Community Partnership gave him the legitimation to continue with this work and alongside the conferences produced by the project this legitimacy increased. Today the project has been "recruited" to be the university's leading project. In a recent conference at the university the project was presented to the Minister of Finance and the Secretary-General of the OECD.


In the discussion that followed Dr. Strier's presentation, he mentioned that the students are the ones that profit the most from the project. He spoke of one of the Muslim students who told him that this was the most significant experience she has had in her life. The social workers also gain much from the project as they have an opportunity to reexamine their standpoints and their commitments. In interviews held with the students about their participation in the project they spoke of their participation as an important learning experience. Residents, on the other hand, remain very frustrated in many cases.


Further to a question from the audience Dr. Strier related to the work process with the municipality. He claimed that there is an internal pressure when working with the social services. The project, in actuality, exposes the social services' weak-points and they, on the other hand, perceive the university as detached and distanced. On the other hand, once the social services have a local community that is organized, they take a stronger position in relation to the mayor, and therefore they have certain interests in maintaining the projects. The mayor of Haifa is not social justice oriented, and when there are communities backing the social services they may have more impact when trying to influence municipal programs. This partnership, nevertheless, is exposed to political traps – for example, whether it is possible to publicly criticize the mayor? Work in partnership with the municipality raises diverse problems, and ongoing negotiations take place between all participants relating to the essence of the partnership. It is necessary to continually create new meanings in relation to the ties and identities in and between project partners.


When asked about principles or advice that may be applied to other places or projects Dr. Strier replied that the most important thing is personal ties. It is important to continually look for partners, not remain isolated, and not to fear actions that confront position holders and authorities. One must "think big" and "act small".