Trinity College’s Community Learning Initiative (CLI) was unveiled in the fall of 1995 at an event attended by twenty-five interested faculty members. Students, faculty and Hartford-area community organizations come together in collaborative partnerships to carry out projects that both strengthen student learning and benefit the community. Each project is part of an academic course and is guided by the principles of reciprocity and mutual respect between the community and student partners.
CLI is distinctive because it asks students to work collaboratively with parties who are not traditional partners in our academic endeavors, such as Zulu Nation 860, The Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, Jubilee House, Partnership for Strong Communities, Hartford Hospital, and Knox Parks Foundation. This model of collaboration helps students to understand that the creation of knowledge is not limited to “within the College walls” and that shared knowledge can serve both academic goals and the work of community partners.
CLI also attracts students from a wide range of disciplines, from Theater and Dance to Environmental Sciences, Physics, Politics and English literature, because it seeks to address many diverse issues – issues that can be explored by virtue of our urban environment. For example, our location in the city has allowed CLI students to act as co-facilitators in the arts performance and therapy programs for families affected by incarceration; to provide research on how urban community gardens can act as a forum for building leadership skills in “at-risk” youth; to design and run a “science Olympiad” for middle school children in order to increase interest in science at an early age; and to investigate the type of services immigrant small businesses require in order to thrive. All these projects yield results that directly benefit the work of our partner organizations. No other program at Trinity engages with the local community in such varied ways in terms of the questions explored and the number and diversity of community organizations involved.
Students who participate in CLI courses learn the many ways their education can be used to contribute to society and deepen their commitment to values of civic responsibility, social justice, and equality. These outcomes are central to Trinity’s learning goals for all students and move us towards meeting President Berger-Sweeney’s strategic goal that we not only “integrate Hartford across the curriculum,” but also ensure that our work leads to “positive impacts on the local community.”