The Philadelphia Initiative

mural arts tour

The city of Philadelphia has not only been La Salle’s home for more than 150 years—it’s also the University’s largest classroom. Students’ interactions with the city’s people and places—in internships and co-ops, in community outreach programs, and in visits to the city’s distinctive historical and cultural attractions—complement their studies and enrich their overall experience. La Salle’s Greater Philadelphia Initiative encourages faculty and staff to use the city’s resources and neighborhoods to introduce students to the challenges and opportunities that come with living in an urban environment.

The following are a few examples of professors who have integrated the city of Philadelphia into their courses:

 

Charles Gallagher, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Chair of Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice

Chip Gallagher’s students learn the fundamentals of sociological research through direct engagement with various Philadelphia neighborhoods. Whether conducting ethnographic research in a Vietnamese or Latino community, visiting and explaining why new immigrants move to certain neighborhoods or examining which groups rely heavily on soup kitchens and why, Gallagher’s urban research projects promote active learning, which helps students understand the social and economic forces that shape city life in a richer and more vital way.  Gallagher also engages his students with service opportunities throughout Philadelphia, as a way to simultaneously serve the needs of our community and deepen student understanding of the issues that we face as a society

“While often initially apprehensive about going off campus and using the city as a ‘laboratory,’ students are transformed by their experiences out in the ‘field’ and gain a greater understanding of the communities they study, how cities work, and populations that had been invisible to them prior to the class,” Gallagher said.

 

Lisa Jarvinen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History

In the years since she joined the History Department at La Salle, Lisa Jarvinen has become expert at bringing history to life for her students through engagement with the city of Philadelphia. Taking students to explore significant sites such as Philadelphia’s City Hall, Laurel Hill Cemetery, The Union League, Cliveden, and the Johnson House, Jarvinen deepens her students’ understanding of history while connecting it with the world around them.

“History feels more real when one stands in the place where it happened,” Jarvinen said. “Abstract concepts that explain how societies work or how cultures develop take on more meaning when one is directly familiar with actual examples that demonstrate—or contradict—them. Using the city as a resource for teaching has reinforced classroom learning by connecting it to first-hand experiences that, I believe, will stay with students.”

 

Miguel Glatzer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Heather McGee, Ph.D., Director of Community Engagement and Service-Learning

Students in the team-taught course Incarceration Nation travel to a Philadelphia prison each week to study the phenomenon of mass incarceration from the “inside,” alongside incarcerated individuals whose perspectives and experiences in the criminal justice system greatly enrich the dialogue. Students, both “inside” and “outside,” seek to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of mass incarceration, informed not just by texts and statistics but also through a thoughtful exchange of perspectives and experiences.

“The most interesting thing we have discussed so far is this new idea of a racial caste system that exists within prisons,” said Sierra Applegate, a criminal justice major. “While in class, we were required to think beyond the surface and examine whether or not we truly live in a color-blind society. What I love about this class is that we have such rich discussions, but as students we are required to think deeper about the current issue of mass incarceration.”