Monroe Community College: A Collaborative Partnership to Build a Global Perspective on Social Justice

Christina Heyon Lee
Member Spotlight

Monroe Community College (MCC) prioritizes the intersection between global learning and social justice. Our mission statement calls for us to build global engagement and understanding while strengthening the college’s commitment to community, service, and justice (Monroe Community College, 2022). Through curricular programming, professional development, and strategic partnerships, we are attempting to create global citizens who are committed to making the world a just and safe place for all.

MCC, in Rochester, New York, boasts a diverse and global student body. We currently have over 800 immigrant and refugee students and nearly 100 F-1 Visa students studying at our institution. Our faculty, staff, and administration are committed to engaging students in meaningful global learning and international cultural experiences. Engaging all of our students in global education as a high-impact practice is imperative to the work we do at MCC.

One of the ways we accomplish this is through a partnership with the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University. This relationship was cultivated via professional development opportunities for global learning both at MCC and Cornell; the partnership was formalized in 2018 with the awarding of four U.S. Department of Education Title VI grants, which Cornell leveraged to partner with area community colleges. We initially collaborated with the South Asia and Southeast Asia programs at the Einaudi Center, but quickly expanded to include Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Institute for African Development. The initiatives from our collaboration with Cornell expand the community college curriculum by incorporating global learning and experiences into courses and engaging students in the development of global perspectives. This partnership also supports our commitment to diversity, equity, and belonging in both local and global contexts. The collaboration enhances three key objectives for global learning at MCC:

  • Increasing and supporting professional learning and development
  • Highlighting scholarship and research through visiting lectures and performances
  • Making connections to local and global communities

Through the collaboration, we have supported 14 MCC faculty among five cohorts of Community College Internationalization Fellows since 2019. These Fellows work closely with the faculty and staff at Cornell to develop global learning modules for their courses. The fellowship provides MCC faculty with resources and time to research and develop new global areas of learning for our students. Dr. Michael Jacobs, MCC’s Dean of Humanities and Social Science, said, “Cornell’s fellowship program provides MCC faculty the opportunity to engage in meaningful scholarship that shapes and enhances their students’ learning experiences. In this, it serves to align scholarly activity with the teaching-and-learning mission of the community college.”

Professor Franzie Weldgen, a recent fellowship recipient, said,

Receiving the Internationalization Fellowship has not only granted me access to a treasure trove of research material that will ultimately be folded into my course's curriculum, but also the institutional knowledge; collegial shared curiosity; and genuine supportive inspiration from the staff, faculty, and librarians that make up Cornell University's vast renowned team of experts.

Professor Bob Muhlnickel noted,

My first fellowship [2019] gave me the opportunity to complete a project I had already planned in detail: incorporating Confucian ethics, a South Asian version of political realism, and democratic movements in Muslim-majority countries into my courses in Ethics and Political Philosophy. My second fellowship, underway now, is challenging me to inquire into the political culture and institutions of countries that are unfamiliar to me. The combination of challenge and opportunity is inspiring.

Professor Nayda Pares-Kane stated,

The Cornell Fellows program provided an array of resources and opportunities to enhance my Global Studies course. . . . I was able to tap into the amazing databases and Latin American studies collection. It provided community college faculty like me an opportunity to share, dialogue, and research a vast and rich collection of material for our students.

Working with Einaudi Outreach and Fellowship Manager Kathi Colen Peck, we select visiting scholars, activists, and artists at Cornell to lecture or perform at MCC in a class or a general open forum. In the last five years, we have welcomed many scholars to MCC through this program, both virtually and in person. MCC students, faculty, and staff benefit from these experiences and conversations with scholars and activists who are researching issues in their home countries that have an impact on social justice and equity. For example, in fall 2022 we hosted an open forum panel of Cornell-based Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows from Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Uganda, Laos, and Brazil who are leaders, advocates, and scholars of environmental policy and sustainability. MCC students from the sustainability and biology clubs worked with us to introduce these Fellows to the audience and shape the dialogue. We also hosted talks from celebrated political cartoonist Pedro X. Molina from Nicaragua and two feminist activists from Myanmar, scholars exiled from their home countries for their challenges to human rights violations by their governments. Sharing these eye-opening perspectives and participatory in-person dialogues with our students would not be possible without this program.

Rochester is home to many refugee families, and to highlight how the global context often impacts our local communities, we invite community members to attend these opportunities as well. Working with Cornell and prompted in part by Professor Jasna Bogdanovska, a 2021 Cornell Fellow, MCC’s Institute for the Humanities, led by Dr. Michael Jacobs, and Dr. Katherine Ghidiu, Library Director, hosted a visit from Min Ma Naing (pseudonym), a personal documentary and activist photographer who fled Myanmar not long after the country’s 2021 coup d’état. Min Ma Naing gave a lecture followed by a reception and a month-long photography exhibit—Faces of Changein MCC’s LeRoy V. Good Library that drew many community members. This program established an ongoing friendship and partnership between the photographer/activist, our local refugee community members, and local activists from Myanmar.

In a poignant program last spring, May Sabe Phyu, a visiting scholar and feminist human rights activist from Myanmar, came to our campus to lecture on the resistance to her home country’s military authoritarianism in Cornell Fellow 2022 Dr. Joseph Scanlon’s Comparative Political Systems class. Several of our international students from Myanmar attended the event; one student recognized the activist as a friend of her mother and aunt who helped shelter the scholar/activist in Myanmar just before Phyu fled to the safety of the U.S. and Cornell University.

MCC works closely with Colen Peck to bring in scholars from Cornell who share a perspective that is often decolonial, social justice-focused, and personal. At MCC it is imperative for us to help our students make connections, to highlight activism and action, to maximize the work they are often already doing in their local communities, and to expand their understanding of what is taking place in the global landscape.