The Michigan Community Scholars Program celebrated its 20th anniversary at Palmer Commons on Friday night with a dinner, sing-alongs and remarks by community members. Over 50 people attended the celebration.
MCSP is a learning community founded within LSA in 1999, focused on community service and social justice. Like other living-and-learning environments at the University of Michigan, MCSP students live and take classes together in the West Quad Residence Hall.
David Schoem, founder and director of MCSP, opened the event by welcoming everyone back to Ann Arbor. He explained he created MCSP to be a force of good among competing social tensions.
“The challenge facing MCSP, today and in 1999, is in the face of despair and violence and hate in the broader society, how can we embrace and put all our positive and good together in an educational setting?” Schoem said. “In a community that actually lives and breathes and learns the values of dialogue and diversity … this has been the great opportunity of MCSP.”
In his speech, Timothy McKay, LSA associate dean for undergraduate education, called MCSP one of the signature successes of LSA. According to McKay, the program exemplifies how higher education institutions should teach students the ability to engage in civic and public life.
“The work of MCSP rests at the very heart of the purpose of liberal arts education,” McKay said. “It aims to cultivate precisely this kind of full-fledged participatory readiness … and it helps the rest of the college see how that might be done.”
For a majority of the celebration, more than 20 individuals currently and formerly involved with MCSP spoke for two minutes each, sharing their memories of the program and how it shaped their undergraduate experience.
Danny Lambouths III was part of MCSP’s first class. Because of the positive influence the program has had on his life, Lambouths III said he was compelled to help create a similar living-and-learning community at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he now works.
“Through MCSP, I learned the value of service and the power of student voice,” Lambouths said. “I witnessed firsthand that when you put good into the world, goodness comes back.”
Gilbert Nuñez, another MCSP alum, explained the close-knit quality of the program was key to helping him adjust to a large campus as a first-generation student. Even post-college, Nuñez said, MCSP still plays a significant role in his life.
“When I moved to Washington, D.C. eight years ago, it was MCSP people who met us at our new apartment and helped us unload boxes,” Nuñez said. “It’s MCSP people that we still have friendsgiving with every year. When I moved jobs a year-and-a-half ago, it was to work at an organization with another MCSP person. And of course, the person I get to spend every day with, I met through MCSP in Couzens Hall sixteen years ago.”
Though the program emphasized diversity from the beginning, Schoem said he is especially proud MCSP has developed into one of the most diverse programs on campus.
“We’ve been really effective in the last five to ten years of engaging students in dialogue and in building friendships and a really strong community, and that reflects the diversity of the program,” Schoem said. “Students, particularly in this polarized environment that we live in, have an opportunity to experience the dream of what America’s freedom and diversity looks like.”
Joe Reilly, a musician and educator who is an alum of MCSP, led the group in a sing-along of a song he wrote titled “The Circle.” Attendees started out sitting at their tables but were standing around the room holding hands to form a circle by the end of the song.
Reilly explained the song was inspired by the Circle of Unity, an annual event sponsored by MCSP at which participants sing and dance to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I remember just observing the circle start out a certain size and continue to expand, and people looking over their shoulder as more people came to make sure there was room for everybody,” Reilly said. “For me, that was a really important teaching, a metaphor for how we build community.”
LSA sophomore Eniah Hill is a peer advisor in MCSP and a leader in MCSP’s Intergroup Relations Council. Not only has she made some of her best friends through the program, she said, but it also helps her continue the service work that was important to her in high school.
“We do so much community service work to get into college, sometimes in college you forget about it,” Hill said. “Being in MCSP, you never forget about it.”