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Mount Holyoke College News and Events College Street Journal Vista

Winter 2005 / Volume 10, Number 2

Translating Ideas into Action: Lucia Morales Cariani ’08

Lucia Morales Cariani
Lucia Morales Cariani ’08
(photo by Fred LeBlanc)

Last spring, Lucia Morales Cariani ’08, a native of Venezuela, found herself going door-to-door at housing projects in Holyoke. Working with Neighbor to Neighbor, a grassroots effort to bring low-income residents into the political process and develop local coalitions, Morales served as a translator for conversations with Hispanic immigrants about health care, child care, and political awareness. What brought her into their lives was Justice: Ideals and Practices in History, a first-year seminar featuring a semester of community-based learning.

The course, taught by history professor Harold Garrett-Goodyear, uses
historical case studies to examine what justice has meant in Western cultures since the late European Middle Ages. During the second semester, students participate in social action projects to
see how practice illuminates their arguments about ideologies and institutions. Morales, a history major, admits that no one in the class could imagine initially how their fieldwork would relate to what they were studying.

“I chose to work with Neighbor to Neighbor because I knew they needed someone who spoke Spanish,” said Morales. “They involved me in every aspect of the organization. I participated in meetings with local representatives and helped organize an event that brought together residents, coalition leaders, and elected officials. ”

The experience of going door-to-door turned out to be quite different from what Morales had envisioned. “I thought we’d go with an agenda, such as vote liberal because we think it’s better for you. Instead, we talked to residents about who their representatives were and how those representatives were voting. We’d ask ‘Do you have MassHealth? Can you use it with your providers? Do you get money for eyeglasses?’ We talked about issues that directly affected their lives.”

Along the way, connections between theory and practice emerged. “One case study in class had been on the language used by twentieth-century labor unions. At a Neighbor to Neighbor meeting involving unions I was amazed when I listened to what was being said. I realized that much of the language used by political organizations to attract people—the tools used to make people identify with an organization’s ideals—remains the same.”

Morales has only the highest praise for community-based learning. “The way you think about what you learn is so different,” she said. “By putting it into practice, it comes to life and changes you. ”

On the MHC Web:

Weissman Center for Leadership

Vista - Winter 2005 Index


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