Diversity and Democracy

"Getting the Community into the Student": The Indianapolis Community Requirement

In fall 2010, Butler University launched a new core curriculum in order to provide foundational liberal arts-based learning experiences for students in all six of our colleges. Philosophically, the core “apprises students of the great ideas and dilemmas of human civilization across different times and cultures at the levels of self, community, and world” (Butler University 2013, 7). The new core’s Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR) helps address this goal by extending classrooms into the community, where students grapple with diversity, personal and social responsibility, and social justice. These experiences enhance students’ academic learning and help them become better citizens of their communities and of the world.

ICR and the Core

Individual courses and components of the core are defined, developed, and assessed according to particular student learning outcomes (SLOs) (see www.butler.edu/core/overview/). The ICR is based on three SLOs, which require students

  1. to have an active learning experience that integrates classroom knowledge with activities in the Indianapolis community;
  2. to use an experience in Indianapolis to further [their] understanding of the nature of community and the relationship between community and [the] self;
  3. to further [their] commitment to service and ongoing involvement as community actors.

All Butler students must complete at least one ICR-designated course before graduation, but the ICR is not a stand-alone course. Instead, it is a pedagogical approach used to integrate the learning objectives of a given course with community engagement and the ICR SLOs. Students can satisfy the ICR through a diverse range of core, major, and elective courses.

A confluence of factors contributed to the genesis of the ICR. Founded by abolitionists, Butler has long been committed to diversity, personal and social responsibility, the common good, community, and citizenship as core values of a liberal education. Many Butler faculty and institutional leaders appreciate the unique learning gains afforded by community engagement and especially service learning (which provides a prototype for ICR courses). Truth be told, faculty across campus who voted to include the ICR in the core were motivated by wide-ranging conceptions of what the ICR would be and the interests it might serve. These varied conceptions have ultimately enabled faculty creativity in proposing, shaping, and implementing ICR courses.

Goals and Challenges

Developing successful community-engagement programs presents several pragmatic challenges. Even well-designed experiences require significant attention to achieving civic learning outcomes. At Butler’s Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC), which supports faculty as they design and implement ICR courses, we have learned that “teaching citizenship is not as simple as placing students in community-based organizations with the expectation that they will intuitively display various behaviors associated with citizenship” (Brabant and Braid 2009, 68). Instead, such teaching requires a deliberate focus on helping students develop “civic mindedness—a reflective disposition … [that] involves a developed awareness of others that engages our moral imaginations and enhances our sense of efficacy and empathy as human beings who dwell in civil society” (73). We thus work with faculty to develop ICR experiences that help students “become more aware of the diverse interests, conflicts and negotiations that take place in practicing citizenship” (73).

We also work hard to address students’ misconceptions about the ICR. Faculty begin each semester with students who view the ICR as a requirement akin to service they “got done” in high school, often without reflecting on why they did it or how it affected them. While faculty cannot guarantee that students will have transformative learning experiences over a semester, they can mentor students and remind them that they play significant roles in discovering for themselves the meaning of community engagement and finding their own way to transformation. Student reflection journals provide provocative evidence of success in this regard. As one student mused, “I didn’t realize the value of the ICR until I began to connect with the people that I was working with. I began to realize that education isn’t only for the mind but also for the heart.”

Strategies and Approaches

The Center for Citizenship and Community takes a multifaceted approach to faculty and course development. A team of ICR Faculty Fellows coordinated by the center helps mentor new practitioners and assists them in developing experiences that are reciprocally valuable for both students and community partners (see Musil 2003 for more on reciprocity). We also hire and train student Advocates for Community Engagement (ACEs) who serve as liaisons to community sites, helping coordinate ICR students and expand the capacity of sites to host them.

Two strategies have proven particularly useful in helping faculty develop effective ICR courses. The first involves asking faculty to articulate how a given course seeks to address the second ICR SLO, with its focus on the relationship between community and the self. Contemplating this SLO helps faculty develop provocative ICR experiences that are integrated with disciplinary learning goals rather than courses based on passive volunteerism or community tourism. The second strategy involves asking faculty to consider a paraphrased comment from Steve Roberson, former chair of the Core Curriculum Task Force: “The ICR is less about getting our students into the community and more about getting the community into the student.”

We have identified several productive approaches for provoking the kind of “dissonance” (Kiely 2005) that fosters reflective learning while prompting students to learn about difference and diversity. One approach relies on partnerships that engage students with others across multiple differences, such as affluence, ethnicity, culture, age, ability, sexual orientation, and religion. As students participate in experiences designed to address community-defined needs, learning emerges less from the service per se than from the contextually rooted connections students make with others across differences. A second approach engages students in ethnographic research: for example, students interview immigrants and refugees being trained by the local Immigrant Welcome Center to assist other new immigrants and refugees in orienting to life and work in Indianapolis. This project allows students to develop critical listening skills essential to citizenship while simultaneously exploring cultural differences and the reasons others engage in service. A third approach—influenced by Butler’s involvement in the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Shared Futures project and Project Kaleidoscope, as well as SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities)—uses community engagement strategies to intertwine course content with broader civic issues. For example, the ICR-designated course Food: Table, Pasture, Body, and Mind involves students in a community-based exploration of the connections between food, society, and science.

Encouraging Outcomes

The first cohort of Butler students educated through our new core curriculum will graduate in May 2014. Findings from our assessment of these students’ core SLOs are encouraging. Analysis of post-then survey data from fall 2013 ICR classes (where, after participating in an ICR course, students reflect on their dispositions and competencies after having taken the course as compared with their dispositions and competencies before) shows statistically significant increases (p ≤ .000) in all six subscales used to measure the ICR SLOs. Additional data collected from students before and after taking their ICR courses (using a narrative pre/post instrument) are now under analysis. Perhaps the most important evidence, however, lies in the choices students make following their ICR experiences. Many continue serving the communities they discovered through the ICR or make career choices based on living lives of purpose.


Brabant, Margaret, and Donald Braid. 2009. “The Devil Is in the Details: Defining Civic Engagement.” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 13: 59–87.

Butler University. 2013. 2013–15 Bulletin. http://www.butler.edu/registrar/academic-bulletin/2013-2015-bulletin/.

Kiely, Richard. 2005. “A Transformative Learning Model for Service-Learning: A Longitudinal Case Study.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 12: 5–22.

Musil, Caryn McTighe. 2003. “Educating for Citizenship.” Peer Review 5 (3): 4–8.

Donald Braid is director of Butler University's Center for Citizenship and Community.

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