Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) Courses Focus on Food Insecurity in Rice County

17 October 2022
ACE Relationships Graphic

During the spring 2022 term, two political science ACE courses worked with the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) to focus on food insecurity in civil societies and the role of volunteer initiatives and nonprofit organizations in addressing socioeconomic needs in Rice county. The two courses; Global Challenges and Civil Society Solutions taught by Huan Gao and Social Welfare in a Time of Crisis taught by Juan Diego Prieto each had students learn about the local food insecurity context through guest lectures, readings, and direct experiences supporting local food distribution efforts to inform their analysis and reflections for the community partners on their volunteer programming.

The partners included Community Action Center Food Shelf,  the Carleton Food Recovery Network, and The Key, Northfield Union of Youth. Students heard an introduction to the work and mission of each of the partner organizations and worked three individual volunteer shifts addressing food insecurity including recovering and packaging meals from Carleton dining halls and delivering them to the common fridge at the Key youth center down the street, and greeting and providing a welcoming environment for shoppers at the CAC food shelf. An important element of this ACE work was the critical lens the organizations asked students to bring to their three volunteer shifts. The organizations wanted to know if the values and mission of the food insecurity efforts were translating to the day-to-day experiences of volunteers. The three organizations work from an orientation of dignity and solidarity more than a charity model of emergency food distribution.

Students reflected on their volunteer experiences to the organizations in the form of surveys and written reflections and created visual tools such as flyers and infographics that the organizations could use to further promote not only resources available for addressing food insecurity, but also the values that the programs hope to communicate to the public and participants. Students reflected that they learned from talking with leaders of local food insecurity efforts, that they increased their sense of belonging and connection with the local Northfield community, and that they have a greater understanding of their own positionality and power dynamics as it relates to volunteer and community-engaged work. Often ACE courses take a project-based approach to their partnerships with local community partners. This model tested a hybrid approach where students were able to gain direct experiences and proximity to the issues and people directly impacted and work on solutions through existing volunteer structures, at the same time that they offered critical analytical perspectives and a mutually beneficial public deliverable for the partners.

The CCCE ACES team aims to work with local partners to design a diversity of ACE course formats that have in common the values of mutually beneficial partnerships, ethical engagement, and critical reflection.