Sophia Minder, a Bethel College social work major, interned in fall 2020 at Congregation Action Network as part of her semester with Eastern Mennonite University's Washington Community Scholars' Center. She helped organize a number of protests and demonstrations. An internship at WCSC is a core requirement of EMU's new community organizing minor. (Courtesy photo)

EMU announces community organizing and development minor

“Community organizing is fundamentally a project of power-building within and among groups of people marginalized from existing power structures,” says Professor Ryan Good, co-director of the Washington Community Scholars’ Center (WCSC). Starting this fall, students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) will be able to study community organizing and community development through the new minor that Good championed. 

Students who are interested in community-based work, social and racial justice, activism, or a career in the nonprofit and social services sector will find this minor to provide skills and analytical frameworks complementing many professions. The minor may be useful to those pursuing majors in business and leadership; Bible, religion and theology; peacebuilding and development; political science; psychology; recreation and sport management; social work and sociology.

“Community organizing has been part of significant reforms and a variety of social movements in the U.S. going back more than 100 years.  Organizers may work with faith-based groups or with other types of organizations, such as schools or labor associations,” says Professor Jenni Holsinger, director of EMU’s sociology program in which the minor is housed. “For many students, it’s exciting to learn about new ways to help their own communities and to find hope, and possible career paths, in the work that has been done before and is being done now.”  

The minor consists of 18 credit hours, completed through three classes and an internship, plus two elective courses. One introductory course covering the history, theories, and tactics of organizing in the United States since the early 20th century is offered on the Harrisonburg campus, while the two other required courses and the internship are fulfilled during participation in the WCSC fall or spring semester program. The minor is situated within the Sociology program.

WCSC, located in Washington D.C. since 1976, is a program of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and is open to students from other schools, including Bethel College in Kansas and Bluffton University in Ohio, who regularly send students. The program has a strong history of placing student interns with nonprofits that mobilize community action, work to meet local needs, and advocate for social policies that support local communities, for example, DC Central Kitchen, the Congregation Action Network, and the Latin American Youth Center.

Social work major Reh Franklin is a current intern at DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit and social enterprise that combats hunger and poverty through job training and job creation. Franklin’s projects this semester include co-facilitating group therapy sessions, creating data tracking tools for mapping the cost effectiveness of corner store programs, and creating and distributing surveys related to food equity, access, and justice.

Last fall, Sophia Minder, a social work major at Bethel College, interned with the Congregation Action Network, working with area congregations to “bring awareness to immigration issues through organizing actions and meetings with legislators.”

“Many EMU graduates seek employment in the U.S. nonprofit and social services sector,” Good said. “At a moment when the role of geography in driving and reproducing polarization and structural inequality in the U.S. has been made dramatically evident, a minor focused on place-based analysis, practice, and action will feel timely and relevant to many students.”

WCSC’s network of contacts and organizations within community organizing and development is broad. Specific examples of potential internship sites include:

  • CASA de Maryland
  • Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development
  • Common Good City Farm
  • Community of Hope
  • Congregation Action Network
  • DC Central Kitchen
  • Empower DC
  • Latin American Youth Center
  • MANNA, Inc.
  • Mary’s Center
  • ONE DC
  • Sitar Arts Center
  • Washington Area Community Investment Fund

Discussion on “EMU announces community organizing and development minor

  1. Congrats to Dr Ryan Good for envisioning and implementing this concept, giving impetus to the natural instincts that many EMU grads have pursued in recent decades. If I ever get back to launch my own undergrad studies again, I would certainly build this minor into my program! Whether starting new congregations, launching a child care agency, protesting nuclear and other armaments, experimenting with building intentional communities, finding ways to subvert the Cold War or building resilience with peacemakers in hot zones of the Balkan wars, I know it would have been most valuable.

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