When I was sitting at the Semester in Detroit table during Festifall, someone came to the table and asked “Dude, does that come with a gun?” That question made me seriously mull over why it was that I decided to spend next semester in the city of Detroit. What I found was that the reasons are numerous and personal.

I have served on the Semester in Detroit student team for the past eight months, and in that time I have become convinced of the program’s uniqueness. The program’s concept grew from small group of students in one of Prof. Stephen Ward’s Urban Studies classes. The concept came into fruition, though, through a grassroots student initiative in conjunction with a deep dedication and passion from professors and administrators.

These students and faculty realized there are many service-learning opportunities on campus that give students the opportunity to learn from a community through service. But these folks also recognized that none of these existing opportunities allow students to truly become engaged in the community they are serving.

Semester in Detroit’s motto on the other hand is to live, learn, work and engage in the city.

Living: By living in the city I am helping, I’m convinced that my work will make a bigger impact, because I will be serving my own community. Moreover, this allows me to better appreciate the issues currently facing the city, since those issues will become increasingly relevant to my daily life.

Working and engaging: At the heart of the Semester in Detroit program is a 15-20 hour per week internship in an area that a student is passionate about. The fact that this semester allows students to explore their own passions speaks to how individualized this program can be for motivated students. Students will be able to engage in classes, internships and activities that appeal to them, thereby making this an incredible opportunity to create an individualized semester.

Learning: I don’t know that there is a better place to learn from right now than the city of Detroit. Detroit is the perfect example of a city eroded by Northern racism, political scandal and a reliance on a single industry. Detroit is also a city rich in history, culture and community. It is a city full of people and organizations full of hope and committed to turning things around. I have a great deal to learn from such people. This type of learning opportunity in conjunction with three classes promises that I will take away more from this experience than I can possibly predict.

On a personal note, when I was in high school, I participated in a summer program that sought to educate high school students about the cycle of poverty and social responsibilities while also (hopefully) spurring a passion for social justice. This program completely altered everything I knew. By rebuilding homes on the east side of Saginaw, working at local agencies, spending time in the courthouse listening to arraignments and talking to county prosecutors, listening to and reflecting on social teachings, participating in activities that made me question the beliefs and values I held and having small group discussions, I began to both figuratively and literally tear down walls. As I tore down fences and porches, ripped up decaying floors and put up new drywall and paint, I put a human face on the abstract concept of poverty — and in doing so my whole world changed.

This experience helped me understand my own privilege. I realized the prejudices I held and stereotypes I believed. I discovered my love and compassion for people. I found my passion for the issues associated with urban poverty. I recognized that I learn the most by interacting with people. And I met people I continue to cherish and admire. It is my sincere hope and belief that Semester in Detroit can offer this same experience: an opportunity to grow, learn, work with others committed to social change, engage in the community and feel passionate about the work I do.

Semester in Detroit is holding an informational meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in Angell Hall, Aud. D. For more information please visit www.semesterindetroit.com.

Jennifer Cowhy is an LSA sophomore.

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