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Pluralism and politics: seeing democracy at its best

During spring break, I co-led an Alternative Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C. on the theme of “Pluralism and Politics: Exploring Faith-Based Advocacy in American Society.” Before the trip, I wrote a reflection on my preliminary understanding of the role of faith in public life, hypothesizing that religion “illuminates our moral commitments,” “motivates us to act on our values” and “galvanizes productive engagement in democracy.”

Pluralism and politics: An optimistic hypothesis

In just a few days, winter quarter will be a fading memory and I will be on a plane to Washington, D.C.—the spring break destination of every Political Science major’s dreams. Over a year ago, my close friend Eliza Steffen ’20 and I decided to apply to lead a brand-new class for Alternative Spring Break (ASB), a program that offers a variety of intensive service-learning trips centered on a particular issue area or community experience. By integrating some of our favorite Political Science coursework with insights from advocacy experiences in our own faith communities, we sketched out an aspirational syllabus and itinerary for “Pluralism and Politics: Exploring Faith-Based Advocacy in American Society. ” To our pleasant surprise, the ASB team took a chance on our brainchild; a Google Doc that we’d dreamed up during spring break 2018 was to become a 1-unit course and weeklong trip for up to a dozen students.

The case for service learning

Stanford’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program is one such service-learning course, and the one through which I have learned the most. ASB is a student-led program housed at the Haas Center that introduces students to complex social and cultural issues through community visits, experiential learning, direct service, group discussions, readings, and reflective activities.