Class offers West Bank immersion

Students will spend the first weeks of January studying the neighborhood’s dynamics.

by Hannah Weikel

For one global immersion course offered next semester at the University of Minnesota, buying a plane ticket or packing a suitcase won’t be a 
After a three-year hiatus, a Humphrey School of Public Affairs class will be offered in January that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to study Cedar-Riverside’s residents, culture and neighborhood issues.
The three-credit course will run during the first two weeks of January and end before classes start on Jan. 19
The class was offered between 2010 and 2012 under the College of Liberal Arts, but University officials hope switching to the Humphrey School will attract more students, said the class’ instructor Merrie Benasutti, who also serves as student initiatives associate director for the University’s Center for Integrative Leadership.
Each weekday, students will meet with different community leaders and attend neighborhood meetings in Cedar-Riverside to learn about social change through small-scale community involvement and leadership, Benasutti said.
“It’s a leadership learning course for students to understand what is needed to strengthen a neighborhood,” she said. 
There’s no other University class like it, said Global Programs and Strategy Alliance campus and curriculum internalization director Gayle Woodruff. 
“It’s a new idea to get students engaged and look at how they can get global learning in a local community,” she said, adding that both students and professors have asked for more courses like it.
Because Cedar-Riverside has a historically large immigrant population, the class is considered to simulate a study-abroad experience, Benasutti said.
West Bank Business Association executive director Jamie Schumacher said visiting some of the more than 150 businesses in the neighborhood will help immerse students in Cedar-Riverside culture.
“Most [of the businesses] are small and owned and operated by first-generation Americans,” she said. “It’s a very diverse area, with immigrants and ethnicities in the businesses and as residents.”
Cedar-Riverside resident Eunice Eckerly said neighborhood members are interested in creating relationships with University students.
“This neighborhood is very welcoming,” Eckerly said. “And we are attempting to bring students into the neighborhood and learn in a deeper way.”
Often, students live in University-area communities on a short-term basis until graduation, she said, and maintain a surface-level relationship with their communities as a result.
“A lot of students live in a neighborhood and don’t take the time to learn anything about it,” Eckerly said. “This class eliminates the detachment that students have from the community.” 
The Center for Integrative Leadership also leads the graduate student organization Cedar Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement, which allows students to work long-term with residents and businesses in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, Benasutti said.
“Workplaces are becoming more multicultural,” Woodruff said. “Students need to prepare to have the world in their workplace.”