Building Strong Communities and Cultivating Civic Engagement

Written by Stephanie Gordon

“Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of place and community. Appreciating place is essential for building strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life.”

Wilfred McClay, Why Place Matters

While most students leave campus for summer break, some students spend their summer in the ‘Dale, interning at various departments within the College. This summer, nearly 20 student interns were on campus to learn more about community and civic engagement through a program called the Hillsdale Summer Fellowship.

“The Hillsdale Summer Fellowship emphasizes the importance of local communities and businesses for fostering positive civic engagement in the United States, and helps students foster the tools they need to become leaders in their own communities after graduation,” said Career Services Project Manager, Hadiah Ritchey ‘20.

Piloted in 2019, and paused in 2020 due to COVID-19, the fellowship was able to resume this summer and welcomed 19 student interns – a number that was able to house each intern at Park Place free of charge as a fellowship perk. According to Ritchey, the students had to submit an application to the fellowship and receive permission from their campus supervisor to participate. If their application was accepted, students were admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis until they reached housing capacity.

“The fellowship aims to provide the opportunity for students to experience the myriad of ways people can invest in their local communities,” said Ritchey. “At Hillsdale, we often discuss how politics, broadly defined, entails basic human interactions aimed at a good. If we care about politics, that means we should also care about the human interactions in our communities.”

Spanning over eight weeks, and student interns met each Thursday from 12-4 p.m. June through July. According to Margaret Patrick ‘23, the first half of the fellowship focused heavily on agrarianism, with an emphasis on knowing where food comes from, and how buying local helps sustain a community. The second half of the fellowship focused on small business-types and basic community involvement.

“We were assigned (30-40 page) readings from a faculty member and then listened to a lecture,” said Patrick. “We had lunch at a local restaurant, and then attended a ‘community engagement’ where we visited a local farm or small business to hear from the owners as to how they/their livelihoods are involved in Hillsdale.”

Lecture topics ranged from sustainable farming and a visit to Chef’s Way Organic Farm in Hillsdale to the South and agrarian tradition with a visit to Ferry Farms in Litchfield, MI. The interns also learned about Wendell Berry’s The Loss of University, global supply chains, community gardening, ancient agrarianism, local service, and local politics and history.

“I would recommend the program to people who live in the city because the program focuses on rural areas,” said Patrick. “There’s an obligation to emphasize the importance of manual and physical labor and also exercise the spiritual and mental faculties that are both important in a person’s education.”

At the end of the fellowship, on July 29, students presented from one of the assigned readings/topics. Ritchey said the presentations were given to the participating faculty and current fellows.

“Our topics this year included a student-led community ice rink, a community garden, a farmer’s market booth, and answering the question, ‘what is the Christian’s duty when it comes to sustainable living’.”

Applications for next year’s fellowship will open in early spring 2022, and interested students should contact Ritchey directly at [email protected] for more information.

“After participating in this program, students will have seen Hillsdale on a new level,” said Ritchey. “They will have heard about individuals buried in the Hillsdale cemetery, they will have visited two farms that supply food to our campus dining hall, they will have had the opportunity to sit in a City Hall meeting, and they will have seen the hard work that goes into making out parks beautiful, among many other activities. By showing students all the different possibilities for local involvement, we hope that the students who participate in the Summer Fellowship will take these same ideas and become leaders in their own communities after they leave Hillsdale.”

Stephanie Gordon, a lifelong Hillsdale native, is the Managing Editor of the Student Stories Blog. She is married to chiropractor, Dr. Matt Gordon, and has three children – Eloise, Flora, and Jack. When she has a spare moment, she enjoys paleo baking, floating on Baw Beese Lake, and breaking a sweat at the gym.

Published in August 2021