For the student group CLASE, civic engagement starts on AU’s campus.
Marcy Fink Campos, director of the Center for Community Engagement & Service, has advised the organization since its formation in 2008.
“This is a program that bridges two distinct worlds at AU,” she explains. “One is the student body, and two is the workers of which they are about one hundred and ten – most Central American – who experience college life in a very different way than our students.”
CLASE, or Community Learners Advancing in Spanish and English, brings students together with the contracted Aramark facilities management employees for language, culture, technology, and civic exchange. Aside from individual classes, students and workers meet for luncheons, dinners, soccer matches on the campus quad, and events like salsa performances.
Amy Farina, a junior and Alpha Phi Omega member, co-chairs the group alongside sophomore Devereaux Swaim. Farina has been involved with the group since her freshman year.
“There are a lot of different goals for CLASE,” she explains, “but one of the main ones is literary empowerment – to teach the workers English, help them become empowered, have upward social mobility, and be able to assimilate.”
Farina and Swaim arrange the biweekly classes, pairing about 30 students with workers by language skill and schedule. Some workers have been in the program since before it was even formed as CLASE, and a few believe these classes represent the only way they’ve learned English.
As a newly revamped initiative this year, CLASE has rolled out computer and citizenship classes for workers. The computer classes, which meet once a week, focus on anything from basic usage to social media, Skype, and Microsoft Office. Marisela Orellana, Farina’s tutee since freshman year, has used the classes to keep in touch with relatives and improve her skill set.
Farina explains, “For a lot of the younger workers, they already know how to use [computers]. Marisela already knew how to use them but wanted to learn how to use Facebook to contact her family back home. Knowing how to use Excel, Word, and PowerPoint opens up a lot of job opportunities, and just knowing how to send email is important.”
CLASE’s last feature answers the call to civic engagement that AU puts out to all its students. Twice weekly, the group meets for citizenship classes, practicing test questions with workers seeking to complete the citizenship process. CLASE even recently held its first fundraiser to support a worker who, despite financial hardships, planned to take the $675 exam.
While the benefits for the workers are huge, Campos sees the students and the university as also benefitting. In fact, she believes CLASE fulfills a cornerstone of AU’s mission, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.
“For the students, it really expands their minds in terms of the stories, the struggles, and the accomplishments of many of the workers. A number of them – because of the support they’ve gotten – have been able to not only take the citizenship test, but vote for the first time in a federal election,” she shares. “That’s just a huge accomplishment. Since one of our goals on this campus is civic engagement, we’re really promoting it in a significant way.”