Satterwhite: Associate professor, Department of Religion and Culture, and director, Appalachian Studies

Hester: Associate professor, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, and associate director of education, Center for Refugee, Migrant and Displacement Studies

On Ut Prosim: For the third time, Satterwhite and Hester are co-instructing a course called Societal Health that focuses on how health and well-being are influenced by cultural norms, social structures and hierarchies, and inequity and injustice. The course requires students to perform 15 hours of community engagement activities that involve collective action for social change.

“What we’re really trying to get [students] to think about is, are you addressing a problem that’s already in crisis, which is an important thing to do?” Satterwhite said. “And are you also thinking about preventing that crisis from occurring in the future? We’re asking them to think about projects that might address the ongoing issues and structures and then change the way things are done, change policies and change conditions.”

For example, over Labor Day weekend, 28 students and faculty members participated in a mutual aid flood relief trip. They helped with cleanup and discussed needed structural changes to prevent or respond humanely to future disasters.

“We started this class, especially this time in a pandemic mode, discussing how all the research that's coming out now talks about student and faculty disengagement, and so it feels more urgent than ever … to re-engage the students and to give them some meaning, not just around their lives and education, but their futures,” Hester said. “We want them to go into careers that have meaning and that are also doing meaningful things in the world.”

On the importance of offering service opportunities to students: “One thing that I think about is how hungry the students are to be meaningfully engaged,” Satterwhite said. “We are making space for students to step into, to do work that they really want to do anyway. They want to be engaged in real world research. They want to be connecting with the community.”

On the importance of service for Virginia Tech’s future: “That's why this [mutual aid trip] is not charity because charity, in many ways, is about dropping in and doing a few little things,” Hester said. “But all the structures remain in place, and so you'll just keep having to drop in … but that doesn't fundamentally address the structural issues that are historically and socially produced.

“This is also core to us that we don't just engender gratitude in people that we give a handout to, but we put our shoulders in next to them and say, ‘OK, how do we prevent this from ever happening again?’ or at least build community such that, if this happens again, it's not about one individual. It's about all of us together making this better. That's the kind of service orientation, that kind of community and communal orientation, that we are trying to foster and build up at Virginia Tech.”


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