Ursuline Service Learning Trips Broaden Horizons

Ursuline College Cheyenne River Graffiti Team

Sometimes visiting a different culture reveals truths about your own, but often it takes a return visit to truly begin to understand your place in the world. That’s the premise behind the service-learning trips led by Katherine Jackson, PhD, associate professor in the graduate Counseling and Art Therapy Department at Ursuline College. Since 2013, she’s brought students, faculty, alumni and community members to serve children and adults through art therapy on nearly every continent.

Jackson and her colleagues now focus on three destinations: South Dakota, South Africa, and Nepal. Repeat visits there enable the Ursuline group to establish long-term relationships within the communities. “We like that we have established relationships—that we are not just dropping in and then never returning,” says Jackson. “We are trying to be part of their extended community, albeit far away.”

As they do every summer, a group returns to the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in July for the RedCan Graffiti Jam. This annual arts and culture festival draws artists from all over the country to create graffiti with a social justice message, to empower native persons. Ursuline students will support Lakota youth throughout the week in art making, while also helping as “student leaders” to ensure the event goes smoothly by picking up trash, cooking, and pitching in as needed.

Later this summer, a second group will return to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to work with at-risk youth in local schools. “These children don’t have the resources to experience creative arts or meet people outside their community, so our focus here is building relationships with the children through art making, games, dancing, and play,” Jackson says.

These short-duration trips don’t allow for long-term mental health work. The focus is on relationship building and cross-cultural exchange. “We are not going in as ‘saviors’ to help people, but to share and to show them that we care and that we are here as needed,” she said. Designed to be as immersive as possible, the Ursuline service -learning trips can change how Counseling and Art Therapy Department students approach their work when they return to home. They see in new ways the cultural factors that influence Americans, gaining perspective they carry into their future careers as art therapists.

Ursuline College, a women-focused, liberal arts college in Pepper Pike, Ohio, offers the only graduate program for Counseling and Art Therapy in the state. This dual master’s degree program educates students to harness the healing power of the arts to become licensed counselors and art therapists able to support the mental health and wellbeing of those they serve. Learn more at ursuline.edu/CAT.

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