About the Program

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Founded in 1969, Community Studies is the oldest interdisciplinary program at UCSC. The longstanding hallmarks of Community Studies are its focus on social justice and its distinctive pedagogy integrating classroom learning and extended field study. Community Studies was a national pioneer in the field of experiential education and its civic engagement model has been emulated widely. Community Studies was also a pioneer in addressing principles of social justice, specifically inequities arising from race, class and gender dynamics in society at large, and in critically assessing strategies for achieving social change.

The undergraduate major offers highly motivated and focused students the opportunity to pursue a rigorous course of study combining on- and off-campus learning. On campus, students complete a core curriculum enabling them to identify, analyze, and help construct strategies for social justice movements, nonprofit sector advocacy, public policy making, and social enterprise. The core curriculum works in tandem with topical course work that develops expertise in specific domains of social science scholarship related to their field study. Off campus, students commit to spending six months immersed in a setting where they participate in and analyze the social justice work of an organization, with a goal of making a meaningful contribution to the organization’s mission. Students work independently but with active guidance from both campus faculty and an on-site supervisor from the field study organization.

The undergraduate core curriculum begins with the development of skills in social analysis and field observation/participation while deepening students’ knowledge of specific histories and theoretical perspectives essential to the study of communities and social transformation. Next, through the six-month full-time field study, students engage with specific communities through residence and participation in an organization with a social justice mission. This intensive and extended immersion is a distinguishing feature of the community studies major. Finally, students return to campus to analyze their field study experience and its relation to their ongoing classroom-based learning. The major culminates with a senior capstone integrating academic coursework, field study analysis, and original writing.

With the guidance of faculty and staff advisers, community studies students choose field placements related to one of the program’s areas of focus in health justice and economic justice. In the past, placements have been arranged with community health clinics, women’s and feminist organizations, immigrant-rights centers, media advocacy organizations, homeless resource and support groups, sustainable development projects, queer and transgender organizations, neighborhood or workers’ collectives, civil rights groups, community food security programs, legal clinics, community-based cultural organizations, programs for seniors, tenant or labor unions, HIV/AIDS advocacy groups, harm reduction programs, government agencies and the offices of elected officials, and still other organizations committed to and working for social justice. As political, economic, cultural and technological landscapes shift, so do the needs and opportunities for social justice organizing. It is a dynamic world and throughout its history Community Studies has been noteworthy for being attuned and responsive to innovative field study opportunities.

For more information about the Community Studies major, please visit the Undergraduate Program page. For information on acceptance into the major, please visit the Declaring the Major page.