Through her Community Psychology course at San Diego City College this past spring, Dr. Veronica Ortega teaches students how to look critically at the issues in their community that affect health and well-being. In the first 5-6 weeks of the course, the class breaks up into “Neighborhood Groups,” determined by where the students live and what issues interest them. Each group identifies a specific problem in their neighborhood and then spend the remaining weeks doing research, which could also include their own observations, interviews, and creating a realistic plan to solve the problem.
Periodically, Dr. Ortega meets with each of the groups to assess their progress, and push them to think critically about the different components of their action plan. She continually asks questions like, “What will be your challenges, and what may come up as unintended consequences?”
While they do every step of the planning process, they end shy of actually implementing their project. However, some students are committed to seeing their project through. One student in the South Park/Golden Hill Neighborhood Group focused on creating supportive services for addicts transitioning out of recovery. She wanted to keep this target population from “falling through the cracks,” by creating a Recovery Empowerment Project that would include involvement in community services, helpful resources, a navigation tool, incentives, and follow up.
“This project will save lives. I will never give up on that,” she said.
The class uses a positive and critical approach to finding realistic solutions. One student describes the sense of empowerment she obtained as she realized the impact of simply talking to different community stakeholders and being a bridge collaborator.
“Just me, little old me, can make a difference. My conversations with people can end up having a big impact,” said another student. “People realized they were not the only ones being bothered.”
The student recognized and helped others to recognize that neighboring businesses have the same issues, and want the same changes.
Through this course, San Diego City College is providing students with the tools they need to help their community’s thrive. Whether it be street safety, homeless issues, gang violence, youth drug use, traffic issues, or community enhancement through theater and entertainment, the students in Introduction to Community Psychology were gaining the skills they need to create positive change.