Faculty and Students' Work with Marginalized Communities in Jerusalem

Faculty and Students' Work with Marginalized Communities in Jerusalem, April 6, 2011

This study day aimed to present methods of community work within the framework of community-engaged courses – discussing dilemmas, challenges, and possible means of action. The various practices were introduced through the presentation of two courses supported by the Campus-Community Partnership, courses integrating work with marginalized communities in Jerusalem. Participants in the study day were faculty members teaching community-engaged courses, and representatives of institutions of higher education and of civil society organizations.

For a copy of the invitation, press here.


Dr. Edith Blit-Cohen, social worker Tami Gross, and social worker Orly Kuzin-Malachi, of the School of Social Work and the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented their work in the courses: "Marginalized Populations, Human Rights and Social Change" and "Feminism, Accessibility and the Law". These courses make up a joint program for social work and law students. The program brings together students and groups of underprivileged women. It examines the relationship of knowledge, accessibility to the law, marginalized populations and actualization of human and civil rights.


Dr. Blit-Cohen began the study day with a discussion of "Work with the Community: the Challenges of Partnership". She spoke of people's motivations for social change, the resources required to act for change, and the figurative barriers and hurdles that must be overcome for certain groups to become active. She then went on to draw guiding principles for action for community change and empowerment, including: understanding and acknowledgement, sharing and cooperation, attempt to avoid hierarchy and power relations, and belief in the community's ability to succeed, with an emphasis on the work process.


Gross and Kuzin-Malachi presented the program's practices, the ways in which the women's groups are conducted, and the manner in which this is based on the principles presented by Dr. Blit-Cohen. They mentioned the gaps in perception that exist between the students and the women in the underprivileged communities, the difficulties emanating from these gaps and the challenges involved in trying to reduce them. Further, they spoke of why students are seldom aware of their successes in the program, as it is easier for them to see their failures.


Architect Liat Briks-Atgar, lecturer in the Unit for (In)formal Architecture Studies at Bezalel – Academy of Art and Design, and Amany Khalefa, graduate student in Management of Non-Profit and Community Organizations at the Hebrew University, and coordinator at the Campus-Community Partnership, presented the work of the Unit with the community in Arab al Sawahre, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The Unit, which addresses the phenomenon of informal construction, architecture that is between the formal and the non-formal, attempts to understand the relations constructing space. It examines and maps construction in relation to the physical, social and cultural aspects of the surrounding environment. Students of the Unit, through dialogue with residents of Arab al Sawahre, prepare schemes for architectural involvement, taking into consideration cultural and social complexities.


Briks-Atgar presented the challenges that were part of the work process with the residents. She noted that the residents are in actuality a fragmented community, and that the constructed space reflects this fragmentation. In fact, the residents conduct themselves as individuals, from their private homes, and not as a group. In view of this fragmentation, the Unit has examined ways to recreate public, joint spaces, and analyzed ways in which residents share the city.


Khalefa, who guided the residents of Arab al Sawahre's relationship with the faculty and students of the Unit, offered three points for discussion: she explained how the discourse of regional planning and architecture is like another language, an academic and professional language that requires mediation between the students and faculty and the residents; she discussed the need for more comprehensive preparation and work processes for the students, as most architecture students do not receive appropriate tools in their studies for joint planning work with the community; finally, Khalefa referred to the significance of gender throughout the process of work with the community, stating that it is necessary to look at the degree of power and influence that the women may have or lack.