By the end of July, University of Kansas graduate students in a service-learning course will collaborate with the Lawrence Community Shelter to help reinforce fact and dispel fiction about Lawrence's homeless and homelessness.
Simran Sethi, the Lacy C. Haynes Professional-in-Residence at KU's William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, is teaching the graduate course, titled Communicating Social and Environmental Initiatives, at KU's Edwards Campus in Overland Park. Students will spend time at the Lawrence shelter, interview staff and residents and, informed by their research and course learning, will create strategic communications materials for the shelter.
The class turns its attention toward the shelter at a critical time. With the closing of the Salvation Army emergency shelter at the beginning of June, the Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., became the only overnight emergency shelter in the city.
The application of in-class learning to a practical setting is what makes Sethi's a service-learning class. Incorporating service learning not only fosters a better understanding of the material but also can act as a catalyst for innovative leadership and social responsibility.
In this instance of service learning, four groups of four to five students each will focus on elements of communication for the shelter: the shelter newsletter, the Change of Heart quarterly newspaper produced mostly by homeless people in Lawrence, and a presentation for potential donors.
Students' final materials will be presented to Lawrence Community Shelter Director Loring Henderson from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 25, from the Edwards Campus. The class materials will be disseminated at the shelter's discretion. A five-part series of blogs and video posts will be created for lawrence.com.
Sethi uses the metaphor of "conversation" to frame the communications materials that will be created.
"If the message grows out of that concept — people talking with each other in an interactive, respectful way, rather than being talked at by experts or media — then it should substantially change the tenor of the conversation," she said.
Sethi said she hopes her class can help.
"There are many messages in the public realm about the homeless and homelessness," said Sethi. "We will seek to emphasize fact and dispel rumors through education and outreach. We are trying to reframe the discussion in much larger terms of systemic problems and solutions."