Q & A: The Rainbow Cafe

The Rainbow Cafe is warm and colorful, tucked away at the Southern side of Carbondale, Illinois, where infrastructure meets and lapses into the woods of Shawnee National Forest. Outside the building, a rainbow flag flies beside the front door in a quiet, artsy storefront. My first impression is of an indie coffee shop—but it’s not actually a coffee shop. Instead, Rainbow Cafe is a youth center, and one of the only LGBTQ+ youth centers in Little Egypt.

Tara Bell, the Cafe’s board chair and community relations manager, greets me warmly; she’s contagiously energetic, bright and welcoming to a fault. We put on a pot of coffee in the Cafe kitchen, and sit down to drink it on warm, soft couches in a room with rainbow walls. The table across from us is piled full of resource flyers, covering everything from lists of local accepting churches to legal name change information. The Cafe exists to “provide a safe, welcoming, and supportive space” to LGBTQ+ youth, ages 13-19, across Southern Illinois, and it does just that: every Friday night, from 6:00 to 10:00 PM, youth gather there for free food, fun, and community.

“We always learn more from them than they do from us.”

Spaces that provide support and connection are incredibly important in any area, but especially so for students at the small, rural schools that characterize Southern Illinois. These students might not have any other LGBTQ+ friends in the entire student body—and there might not even be resources at school to ensure their fair treatment or safety.

Much of Rainbow Cafe’s work is based in schools, because much of the need for advocacy and community is in the education system; Tara’s experience with this began firsthand with her transgender son’s transition. “When he graduated from high school four years ago,” she explains, “there was no Gay-Straight Alliance in place.” Even as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, she struggled to fully understand or recognize what he was going through at a high school with no resources or community for people like him. That disconnect led her to get involved; “working with younger teenagers helped my relationship with my son, because I started to understand more of his experience.” She pauses to take a sip of her coffee. “You know, we always learn more from them than they do from us.” Continue reading “Q & A: The Rainbow Cafe”

Service Learning Spotlight: Dr. Bardhan, CMST 481

Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan is a professor in the Communication department at SIU, as well as the director of their graduate program.

Within the Communication department, which is known for their high potential for community engagement, Dr. Bardhan primarily teaches classes on Intercultural Communication and Public Relations. Many CMST classes involve service learning, but today, our focus is on her experience with CMST 481.

How long have you been at SIU?  

“Long enough to get free parking!”

Wait, they do that here? How long is that?

“22 years this year.” She’s been a professor here since 1998.

How did you first hear about service learning?  

“I didn’t start out thinking about it as service learning,” Dr. Bardhan explains. “It was what was being done in the curriculum when I got here.”

This is a common thread among long-time service-learning professors: for the majority I’ve spoken with, it’s simply the way things have always been. It’s the best way for their students to have a fulfilling, hands-on experience that they can carry with them through their careers.

What does service learning look like in your curriculum? How have you incorporated it?

A: “We have a class called PR Cases and Campaigns, it’s the capstone course for PR majors.” The class is structured like a firm; each semester, sections take on clients from the community—at least one nonprofit/community organization as a client every semester.

“We work with nonprofits, which are usually strapped for funds,” Dr. Bardhan explains; she gives St. Francis Animal Shelter and the American Heart Association of Southern Illinois as examples.

“Students take on that group or that organization as a client, and then they figure out their needs, from an awareness-raising stance. They get to know about the organization if they don’t already, and can go even beyond the class, so if they want to volunteer for them, they get engaged in that way. Organizations get the service from the students as they’re learning about how to do their work, and they get some input from the students in the form of the work that they do.”

What do you think your students get out of their work? What do you get out of this work as a professor?  

“It’s a mutually beneficial situation,” Dr. Bardhan says; she’s developed an extensive list of positive experiences her 22 years’ worth of students have had in CMST 481. “Students get materials for their portfolio, which is great when they’re gonna be applying for jobs. It’s useful to have worked with real organizations, rather than hypothetical ones, and actually developed plans and campaigns for real situations.”

But a leg up on resume building is only the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, students gain experience with promotional and awareness-raising campaigns, as well as recruitment of donors and volunteers, and management of fundraising resources. Students in CMST 481 get to learn on the fly, doing exactly the job they’re getting a degree for.

And of course, there’s always “the satisfaction of working with a nonprofit they feel connected to,” as well as volunteer hours available to those who go above and beyond the class requirements. “They get course related benefits as well as an overall satisfaction of being able to give back to the community.”

So, what do you gain from your work with these classes?

“I’ve always been drawn to working for nonprofits; and I think by getting students connected with nonprofits through a learning format, through a class, it feels like everybody’s getting something good out of it. If I can be that person who can facilitate that and make that happen, it’s a rewarding experience.”

What skills or knowledge are your students building through service learning?

Ultimately, these students are building planning, strategy, and implementation skills. They learn to build an “oriented PR campaign, because that’s our department and area, for a real organization, with real needs and issues.”

The same reasons service learning classes are so interesting are also some of the reasons they’re so effective: “Instead of just learning abstract theories in class, students are actually applying it, and feeling like it’s something concrete and tangible.”

What are the course outcomes for this class? What should your students know or be able to do by the end of the class? 

“The main goal is to learn how to develop, and to a certain extent implement, a carefully planned-out and strategic public relations campaign for a client.” The class also tackles issues of learning to develop relationships with clients and organizations, as well as functioning in a professional work environment and fostering suitable communication skills.

Some quotations have been edited for length and accuracy.

Q & A: John A. Logan Museum

Nestled off the main road of Murphysboro, Illinois, the General John A. Logan Museum sits behind a white picket fence, among the other large old houses and even larger trees of the historical district. Out front, a sign reads, “He was made for battle, the fiercer the better. It seemed to suit his temper.” Crickets sing in the tiny pocket of prairie across from the museum’s main door, as the sun beats down on yet another sweltering southern Illinois morning.

Laura Varner, the curator, welcomes me warmly into her office at the top of a twisting staircase, and I’m immediately fascinated by the volume of interesting objects crowding the massive desk in the middle of the room. It’s covered in old documents, letters, and nameless tools, toys, and other objects. She apologizes for the mess, but I’m delighted; I’d be concerned to see a curator’s office look any other way.

Laura is the Curator of Collections for the General John A. Logan Museum, and she’s been there for sixteen years. In print, her job is to assess and care for incoming artifacts. When I ask what she does, in depth, she laughs. “Okay so,” she begins, and then pauses to shuffle her thoughts into order. “Assessment of incoming artifacts, maintaining the existing collection—mak[ing] sure everything’s housed as properly and safely as possible—” and the list goes on: “I also do research on different exhibits we have, and I do research on the artifacts; I help the director to put together the exhibits. I look for volunteers, this that and the other.” This, that, and the other includes upkeep in the main building; here, everyone does a bit, or more than a bit, of everything.

Southern Illinois has become a largely forgotten area in terms of civil war history; the Logan Museum seeks to remedy this. In Laura’s words, the organization exists “to celebrate the life of General John A. Logan and the men [from Southern Illinois] who sacrificed so much to preserve the union.” They’re a tiny organization, but a colorful and hardworking bunch who do what they do because they truly enjoy and believe in it. “Within that,” Laura continues, “we look at this area and the importance of this history in this area, because a lot of people go ‘oh, you know, there’s no battles fought here.’ But the draft had to be put in place during the civil war, and it didn’t have to be put in place here, because people volunteered. People here had no problem with slavery, and they didn’t see fighting a war over it; they did see preserving the union. But when they did go south and see slavery firsthand, people like Logan became defenders of equal rights.”

Logan’s narrative of growth from indifference to empathy and advocacy resonates, now more than ever. Laura goes on: “It’s our job to present this in a way that [helps] people understand the importance of where they live and the people that lived here before.”

The museum does just that; they provide research resources, touchstones, and more to people seeking more information about Logan, Murphysboro, and the Civil War soldiers from Southern Illinois. In particular, Laura is interested in uncovering the people behind the events; “history is stories,” she tells me, “not names and dates.” Continue reading “Q & A: John A. Logan Museum”

New Resources for Changemakers

Our service-learning library is growing! The CSLV just added seven Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) publications to our collection. Five of the books make up The Civic Series which raises questions and provides diverse perspectives on fundamental issues about the civic mission of higher education. Below please find the list of new books and the descriptions from BTtoP. And check out the full list of books in the service-learning library on the CSLV website.

Civic Learning and Teaching contributes to an understanding of why civic engagement in higher education matters, both inside and outside the classroom, for teachers, students, and community members. This monograph explores various approaches to civic learning and teaching across the curriculum, through intergroup dialogue, for research, and in community partnerships.

Civic Studies explores the emerging academic field of civic studies, including theoretical essays, empirical research, and reflections about civic practice. This volume also examines various approaches to civic studies like deliberative democracy and participatory action research.

Civic Provocations features accessible, brief essays—provocations—that center attention on the meaning of civic engagement. The provocations are written by leading scholars and practitioners, and they engage such issues as action research, civic pedagogy, and civility.

Civic Engagement, Civic Development, and Higher Education provides perspectives of institutional leaders who are inspired rather than discouraged by the present challenges of civic renewal and higher education. The authors are drawn from all sectors of higher education. Some consider initiatives which enhance educational excellence at the institutional level, where others emphasize their work with faculty members, curricula, or communities.

Civic Values, Civic Practices explores fresh dimensions of civic values and practices, from shared bases of civic engagement in a world of increasing difference, to championing individual liberty while addressing major social concerns such as gun violence, to the possibilities for global civics. This volume argues for more focus on the centrality of civic values and practices in both the campus and the community.

A Vision for Equity is a critical new resource for higher education professionals working to identify and address disparities in student outcomes. The book includes case studies from thirteen institutions that participated in the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project. The publication offers practical examples, models, data, and resources for campuses seeking to provide an equitable education to all students. In the chapters, each campus outlines how they sought to build internal capacity to address inequities in student outcomes and narrow equity gaps

Well-Being and Higher Education: A Strategy for Change and the Realization of Education’s Greater Purposes, explores the multiple connections of well-being to higher education—and why those connections matter for students, educators, and educational institutions. This volume includes 35 essays on such topics as conceptual models of well-being, its significance for academic policy and practice, its connections to democratic education, the needs of nontraditional and historically underrepresented students, and more.


The Women’s Civic Institute: learning with kindness, openness, and passion

This post was written by Istianah Zaid, who graduated from SIU Carbondale in May 2019. Here Istianah reflects on her experience in the Women’s Civic Institute, and how it taught her to be a community leader and more.

My Women’s Civic Institute (WCI) experience started when I sent my last-minute application. It was a busy week and I contemplated on even sending my application because I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a member of WCI.  I told myself if I didn’t shoot my shot, I’ll never know. Even though I hastily answered the questions because it was due that midnight, one thing I was doing right was that I was honest and passionate in answering them. I pressed “send” without expecting anything. When I got called back for an interview, I felt that this was my moment to share my passion and goals. Next thing I knew, I was accepted into the Spring 2019 cohort.

To be truthful, I thought WCI would hold dull meetings and boring activities. I expected to attain useful knowledge in my head, but never memories that would fill my heart. WCI has taught me how to put myself out there to build connections, to make the most out of the resources that I have and discover what is actually important to me. I learned more than what it takes to be a good community leader. I learned to be a good friend, a trustful ally, and an engaging community member as well.

I was in for a surprise because I didn’t think I was going to meet the most diverse set of people that eventually became my friends, and then my sisters. Our first meeting was awkward, like any time when you put a bunch of strangers in a room. Nonetheless, the guest speakers made us comfortable with each other and from that first session on we shared our views and beliefs without being criticized or condescending to each other. We spoke without fear of being judged and with the intent of doing good. Each of us had a role and that role corroborates with our passion. We passed on that passion to each other, sharing support, hoping that one day we’ll achieve our individual goals while helping others with theirs.

The most eye-opening experience that I personally had was getting to know some of the amazing women who have achieved their goals and are still making progress on their current ones. We talked about how stigmas and stereotypes can sometimes make us be negatively viewed but also how we can challenge those views by stepping up for ourselves and others who aren’t able to do so.

We have to really believe for what we stand for, for people to be convinced that we can be taken seriously. Most importantly, these women were very blunt and honest. They told us how tough and demanding it could be being a woman working alongside people of power. But with that, they mentioned how our natural compassion and a little dose of sternness would always get us through the day.

I am thankful for the force that made me applied in the first place. Because of that, I will never stop taking chances and risks. Where would it take me?  Whether the outcome is good or bad, it feels better knowing that I took a risky shot than having to wonder on endless possibilities.

You don’t have to be the smartest, the most courageous or the most confident person. You just have to come with kindness, openness, and passion, and WCI will welcome you warmly. I left each  meeting feeling good about myself, with an increase of self-confidence and the drive to do better not just for my future, but for the people who needs help the most.

I hope that you will have the same opportunity too.

Any student that identifies as a woman is encouraged to apply. Learn more.


Introducing the Saluki Volunteer Portal

The Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism has exciting news! After months of hard work, we are thrilled to announce the launch of our new Saluki Volunteer Portal! You can now sign up for volunteer opportunities at siu.galaxydigital.com. Sign in with your school email and password.

Our goal for this new website is to provide our incredible community with a fresh, modern experience that makes it easy to find the volunteer opportunities that match each person’s unique skills and interests.

The new portal will create matches among the service community and students, and it will also help to build lasting relationships.

Check back often because we will be regularly be updating our content with new volunteer opportunities, events, announcements, photos, and community partners.

Get involved, and let us know what you think!

LDP Shines as Community Service Leader

The Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism is proud to honor the Leadership Development Program (LDP) with this year’s Delyte Morris Service Award. This annual award recognizes a student or student organization that demonstrates excellence and commitment to community service. LDP was nominated by Carbondale New School for its involvement in high-impact volunteer projects.

CNS described LDP members as “thoughtful and clear communicators who work together to identify problems, create solutions and enact change.” Over the last few school years, LDP has helped with landscaping, painting, organizing storage, and maintaining the outdoor classroom. CNS said the projects are motivating to students, staff, and parents and  “improve the morale, pride and the efforts of all of our stakeholders.”

LDP completes service projects at a variety organizations in the community. Members are tasked with planning and leading service initiatives which help them build their leadership skills while supporting local agencies.

“Authentic leaders have a servant mindset,” said LDP’s director Bruce DeRuntz, PhD. “LDP students truly care about improving their campus and its community. They eagerly embrace the opportunity to lead these service projects and develop leadership skills in the process.”

Arthur Ross, a junior studying automotive technology, led the most recent project at CNS. To meet the school’s needs, he had to communicate with CNS staff, coordinate the work, share the vision, and organize the team.

“It was great to get real world experience in that environment,” Ross said. “The group could see the before-and-after, and that we made the school a brighter, happier place.”

“LDP teaches soft skills and leadership principles, and [service projects] give a chance to use them under pressure and grow,” said LDP president Olivia Hood, a junior studying biomedical physics. She added that LDP members value a chance to give back by supporting the community.

“Throughout the projects we create this sense of belonging and have the opportunity to cause real impact in those around us,” said Diogo Seixas, LDP’s coordinator. “The community service is our way to make Carbondale and SIU better, and developing our students as a consequence.”

The Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism commends LDP on its work in support of Carbondale New School and its commitment to community service.

LDP accepts the award


Welcome! On this blog, you will find

    • stories about students, faculty, and staff making a positive difference in community
    • local organizations making an impact in southern Illinois
    • news and updates related to service-learning and volunteerism
    • insight into service-learning courses at SIU

The Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism prepares students to be engaged, aware and responsible citizens. Co-curricular and course-based opportunities for service and reflection allow students to connect with peers, faculty, and the community. Students learn in a holistic environment that prepares them for leadership in a diverse society.