Higher learning brings with it the expectation of ethical and honorable behavior and acceptance of the notion that the privileges of education carry responsibility. A holistic 21st century liberal education nourishes mind, body and spirit, fostering a respect for the dignity and empowerment of others and a reverent concern for the world. The integration of community engagement and service into an undergraduate curriculum enables students to connect theory with practice and thought with feeling, creating a context in which students can explore both how they feel about what they learn and how to act upon what they think. Thus, in the context of community challenges, engagement encourages self-knowledge, a deepened understanding of place and increased intellectual development. Moreover, community engagement and service within an academic setting help prepare students for full participation in a complex democratic society by fostering a sense of civic responsibility, encouraging the exploration of spiritual identity and vocational discernment, and promoting leadership and ethical decision making.
The mission of the Center for Liberal Education and Community Engagement (CLECE) is founded on Sewanee's core purpose, namely, to enable "students to live with grace, integrity, and a reverent concern for the world." CLECE is committed to the broad goals of enabling students to see themselves as an integral force in contributing to just, equitable and sustainable societies. To encourage this holistic development of Sewanee students, CLECE supports place-based and experiential learning through cross-disciplinary initiatives, faculty-student research, course field and co-curricular activities, community service and structured reflection. CLECE also seeks to open a dialogue on campus about innovative pedagogies and encourages the accumulation of resources to support faculty in their pursuit to develop community-engaged learning in a rigorous academic setting.
CLECE recognizes that students' service activities best serve society and the academy when connected directly to academic courses, research and other scholarly initiatives. Thus, CLECE will collaborate with University Outreach to offer substantive opportunities for community engagement and service tied to academic scholarship. In particular, CLECE encourages the use of service-learning, a strategy of community engagement in which a partnership between the University and a community offers students hands-on learning supported by classroom theory. Ideally, this partnership allows communities to identify their own needs that students help fulfill. Structured reflection distinguishes service-learning from traditional volunteerism or internships because it facilitates the development of reciprocity and mutual respect among partners. Fundamentally, CLECE's model of engagement aims to honor the integrity of all stakeholders by helping individuals progress from disengagement to traditional service or volunteerism toward partnerships that empower communities to solve their own problems.