Multicultural Toledo Honors Course Connects Students to Community

October 8, 2021 | News, UToday, Alumni, Honors
By Hannah Myers

On a bright June morning, students from Dr. Carla Pattin’s Multicultural Toledo Honors course wasted no time getting to work in the community garden at Tatum Park on City Park Avenue.

Located close to the childhood home of famous jazz pianist Art Tatum, Tatum Park’s garden provides accessible fresh produce, learning opportunities and an alluring green space to the surrounding community. Operated by Urban Wholistics and advised by Sonia McNair-Flunder, this community garden provided those Honors students the opportunity to build knee-high garden beds, teach adolescents to use power tools safely and engage in light gardening.

Dr. Carla Pattin talks with UToledo students at Johnson’s Produce Co. in West Toledo at the recent opening of an exhibit highlighting the community engagement and work by students enrolled in her Multicultural Toledo Honors course.

Pattin, who has taught the Multicultural Toledo Honors course since spring 2019, calls these kinds of community-engaged activities “walkabouts.”

During walkabouts, students learn about their community not by reading a textbook or sitting through a lecture but by talking with an assortment of community members, seeing and experiencing locations personally and exploring distinct activities within the area.

For at least one of the students, the course isn’t really a course per se.

“I would sell this class to other students looking to take it as an adventure,” said Whitley Gross, a pre-med student.

Months after the June gardening, former and current Multicultural Toledo Honors course students gathered at Johnson’s Produce Co. in West Toledo to see an exhibit from previous walkabouts. Pattin said she received a grant from the National Collegiate Honors Council to feature the students’ final public presentations in a two-week exhibit to engage the community.

“Students at the University need to experience a variety of neighborhoods and community activists in Toledo, especially urban farms and local farmers. Our students bear witness to the farm-to-table experience, neighborhood beautification and in-city greenhouses,” she said. “Johnson’s Produce Co. is the perfect entry point for conversations about unfair legislation and lending practices that perpetuate land loss of Black farmers and gardeners.

“In addition, Johnson’s Produce Co. is a transformative experience for students because many of our students live in semi-rural areas and agricultural communities. We also have conversations about farming scholars such as George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington to provide a historical context.”

Pattin said the Honors course is modeled after the National Collegiate Honors Council’s “City as Text,” which is an active learning approach to explore Toledo’s multicultural resources and change-makers in the city.

“We’ve explored Sofia Quintero Arts and Cultural Center, The Hindu Temple of Toledo, Grace Community Center and neighborhoods such as the Old West End, Uptown and the Warehouse District,” she said.

From left, UToledo students Meagan Fry, James Riley and Alexandra Gillen work together on a community-related project for the Multicultural Toledo Honors course.

More than 300 students representing a variety of majors have participated in the Multicultural Toledo experience, Pattin said.

“The course fosters a multidisciplinary experience, and it provides spaces for students to think about how they can be change agents within their respective majors.”

As an example, she noted that there are a number of engineering students who have taken the course. The experience allowed them to “pull” from their engineering backgrounds, such as testing their engineering skills by building a raised garden bed at Tatum Park.

“This experience helped them understand their place in a broader context about power, identity, space and the will to foster good social change,” Pattin said.

Freshman Ella Markovitz, an adolescent and young adult education major who is taking the course this fall, said the experience has been wholly unique.

“I was looking for classes that I would thoroughly enjoy, but also learn the most in. I read the course description for Multicultural Toledo and I knew I would love the class,” Markovitz said, a Cleveland native. “It talked of learning about diversity and inclusion within the city of Toledo, and it sparked my interest because I am not from around here.”

She said that leaving the confines of the classroom for the walkabouts is her favorite part of Multicultural Toledo.

“As I walk through the different areas of Toledo, I get to learn about the community who lives there, and I feel like I’m a part of that community as well,” Markovitz said. “I highly recommend this course to anyone and everyone; it’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else.”

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