Here’s the main question College Chaplain Jeff McArn has his students explore in his American Freedom and Religious Thought class: what exactly is American freedom? Does it include equality of opportunity and socioeconomic mobility? If so, how do communities that struggle with poverty fit with this perception of freedom?
With these questions in mind, McArn’s students are put into pairs and given various internships in Utica that include soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and refugee centers. After interning for two hours a week the entire semester, the students apply their increased awareness of other people’s situations to what they learn from the works of American philosophers.
Libby Militello ’22 currently interns at the food pantry in the Johnson Park Center. “Though the organization itself is faith-based, the workers at the JPC aren’t very outwardly religious, which has heightened the concept of individual reason and choice with religious practice. This is a topic we’ve discussed at length in class, especially when examining the works of Gerrit Smith, a prominent abolitionist (and Hamilton alum),” she said.
Joyce Lee ’20 took the class her first semester at Hamilton in 2016. She interned at Hope House, a soup kitchen in Utica, and was responsible for preparing and serving food to communities who came in. “I decided to take the course because I had never studied religion in an academic setting, and I was interested in seeing how the Bible intersected with American history, as it was cited as justification in various freedom movements,” said Lee.
Throughout their internships, the students keep a journal of their experiences, building up to a final presentation at the end of the semester. “The final presentations are definitely what I love the most about the class,” said McArn. “We invite the community partners for breakfast so we can hear what it meant for them to be in the settings that these nonprofits provide, and to what degree they’ve integrated that experience to the concept of freedom.”
Other area nonprofit organizations where students intern include Mother Marianne's West Side Kitchen, Rescue Mission of Utica, and Midtown Utica Community Center.