Syllabus for Soul of a Citizen

This course helps students get involved in community projects we use Soul of a Citizen for discussions and reflection. Here's the course description, followed by examples of our specific projects.

J. Jacks


PSC 3914


Jerry Jacks

Tony Robinson

WOC : Co-Director

Stephanie Pelz


This is a service learning course, which requires a willingness to spend a semester working and studying as an individual/team in both the classroom and the community. Service learning/action research enhances learning by moving beyond the classroom to provide students with an opportunity to relate course content to real-life experiences. It offers you a chance to explore possible career options and strengthen resumes, as well as intrinsic values of personal growth, community involvement and integrated learning that makes use of a student’s unique talents and learning style. Urban Citizen involves students directly in community issues and needs while developing both academic and civic skills.

________________________________________________________________________COURSE DESIGN:

The Urban Citizen class is a unique service-learning/action research class. The course will go beyond traditional scholarly lectures and discussions and will involve all class members in direct-action service and organizing activities in low-income communities. The class will often meet off campus, in the heart of the community where we will be working; it will involve the participation of community activists and neighborhood residents; it is supported by the collaborative energies of several community partners. One of its foundational goals will be to channel the knowledge and resources that our class creates into projects that will improve the community and help residents. We are doing very important work in the neighborhoods surrounding the university. You will be encouraged to use your creativity, initiative and leadership skills.

Our pedagogy is designed to meet the various promises of a service learning/action research curriculum. (See service learning handout) It facilitates students, faculty and community-members address authentic social issues; it responds to the moral needs of participants to connect to their community in valid and useful ways, and develops strong leadership/citizenship skills among participants. A particular strength of the class is that it does not simply respond to social needs in accordance with the charity model of assistance such as soup kitchens and homelessness, but also focuses on the justice/citizenship model. This model fosters the social transformation of students into persons who are committed to rectifying political, economic and social problems, such as the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor, and at the same time cultivates strong participatory democratic instincts in student service-learners toward structural change. All our efforts support the notion that Adlai Stevenson once laid before the educated class of his day:

The privilege and the penalty of your education and the position you hold in your community is that, over the coming decades, as in the past, you will be the pacesetters for political and social thought in your community. You may not accept this responsibility, but it makes no difference. It is inescapable. If you decide to set no pace, to forward no dreams, and to have no vision you will still be the pacesetters. You will simply have decided there is no pace.

This course was developed in 1993 to encourage students to participate in the urban community that surrounds UCD. The Urban Citizen is actually a mini-community of students. That is why we invite you to bring guests to this course. Many of our former students still work with us and several of them and their friends have donated time and money to our/their projects after they have graduated. They are still Urban Citizens.


In Journey Through Economic Time, John Kenneth Galbraith suggests that the future of our nation will turn on the outcome of the continuing conflict between the social and economic autonomy of the self and our larger community. He argues that it will depend on the outcome of the quiet and perhaps not so quiet war between the comfortable and the underclass. According to Robert Booth Power, author of The Dance with Community, the intellectual struggle going on in our universities and communities today is about recognizing that our impoverished neighborhoods and the people that live in them are important to us all, and ignoring them by stereotyping, often results in a loss of our humanity and the core principles of who we are as a country. In other words "all men [women] are created equal" has to mean something. Equal opportunity has to mean something. Things like the necessity of low cost housing is real, not just some left-wing radical’s idea that people should have a right to decent housing. We will discuss the above issues in class and compare what we learn with what is really going on outside our classroom.

Although we are a society that clearly depends on experts, the backbone of our community work is the students and non-professionals, people that simply care about community, neighborhoods and the traditions and culture that they represent. To bring these broad goals together in the classroom and community is the work of the Urban Citizen class.

We will examine the economic, social and political challenges faced by inner-city neighborhoods and will focus on neighborhood driven "community development and organizing" strategies as one means to address these challenges. We will also address the critique that while these local strategies may produce quaint and heart-warming successes here and there, in the absence of a more vast social movement for change and a more complete program of structural change, such community development successes are peripheral and somewhat marginal. Ultimately they do very little towards changing the present conditions that Galbraith argues about: that poverty, crime, homelessness, insufficient education, chronic unemployment-underemployment and cynicism will eventually undermine the very fabric of our nation and ultimately our freedom.


This semester we will examine many issues involving community through the traditional academic techniques of scholarly reading and research, combined with seminar discussions, but a critical part of the class will be to utilize the methods of "action research," "participant-observation" and "service-learning." These methods will take us into the heart of the very communities we study, and will allow us to develop relationships and collaborate with community activists in the field. It will require us to create and utilize our knowledge and other resources in socially meaningful ways – ways that immediately respond to and engage in the dynamics of a neighborhood needs. Such pedagogy will produce important knowledge about our subject and it will also provide students with a way to break out of the traditional "four walls" of the classroom, and use their education in a meaningful and useful ways. Finally, your efforts hold the promise of helping others, even as they become our teachers. Our intent is to improve the community even as we study it. Our applied knowledge will become one of many small forces for social progress in low-income neighborhoods. 0ur challenge as teachers and students, collaborating with community organizations, is to promote an understanding of community development through action research and neighborhood organizing/planning.

Our test then as a class and as urban citizens, is to educate ourselves and other community members in 1) becoming change agents in the range of social ills which need to be addressed, 2) to understand their underlying causes, 3) develop ways to solve them from a grassroots activist level by personal involvement in existing communities and developing and producing action-research that can be acted on. 4) While, at the same time advancing the ideals of inclusivity and 5) developing and testing methods that will encourage participatory democratic values in our communities.

We will focus on the below objectives:

Reflect upon what it means to be an individual moral agent working and studying in a community;

Understand the possible consequences of an individual’s social activity in regard to local community of which she /he are members;

Examine values in society and the ways in which values are both socially supported, opposed and debated;

Study the forms and functions of the complex urban web;

Integrate relevant theory, action-research and practical experiences into a body of learning usable in future practice;

Explore, analyze and develop solutions to urban problems encountered in the course; and

Use the classroom and community as a microcosm for the study of participatory democratic values.


Each student will keep an Urban Citizen Journal based on 1) your individual choices of clippings from daily newspapers and weekly news magazines, with personal comments on the articles that are connected to your project or the class in general; for example articles on housing, schools, homelessness, joblessness, benefits for the poor. 2) your ongoing reactions to required readings, videos, and class discussions, and more importantly your thoughts about what you are learning as an Urban Citizen.

Journals offer a way to brainstorm and reflect on ideas from the course readings, class discussions, guest speakers, and your reflections of the project that you have chosen to work on. Journal entries are also an excellent way to test and develop ideas for your final paper. Use a three ring lose leaf notebook for your journal because it allows you to insert relevant material at different times and continue developing your thoughts when I am reviewing your journal. Journals also give you the opportunity to carry on a personal conversation with yourself. Your journals are private exchanges between instructor and student and are treated that way. All your entries should also include a "reading" report describing the key ideas in the assigned readings. This can be in outline form.

Over the course of the semester you should develop your own definition of an urban citizen and their responsibilities to their larger community. Questions like what political/cultural values have we accepted or rejected? How did previous generations of our families interact with community? Issues such as these are important and will drive much of the class discussions. Be creative with your journal, often a picture or newspaper article that you thought was important can describe your efforts better than just summarizing your experience. In fact I would prefer that you avoid summarizing as much as possible. Discussing normative issues/values is what Urban Citizen is about. Your journal will count for 25% of your grade.

Your participation grade will be based on regular attendance (missing a class is like two absences), completing class readings before the class is very important. You may also bring in relevant articles, information or ideas to share with us. Few people have all the answers, but together we can develop a clearer picture of our community. Because this class is highly interactive, each student can bring a valuable perspective or may ask a question that will spur the class to see something in a new way. Your participation will account for 25% of your grade

There will be a final critique paper that will be discussed in class. Fundamentally it is a reflection paper and will involve your entire semester’s experience. I expect it to be well written and connected to readings, projects and your overall learning experience. Your critique will account for 25% of your grade

Participation in our non-academic projects and community service events is expected.

Flexibility for individual circumstances will be considered, but our projects are a team effort and require us to work together. Open class dates as well as fewer readings/papers clearly compensate for this time. Our community work sessions are popular with students and the community. They are restricted to four hours each session. We usually have a minimum of four per semester. It really depends on what

we are doing and alas, if funds are available. You can expect to spend approximately 35/40 hours working outside the classroom. This portion of the course is worth 25% of your grade


Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time, Paul Rogat Loeb. (1999).

Tangled Up in Red, White, and Blue: New Social Movements in America, Christine A. Kelly. (2001)

Short Readings provided by instructors


Week One 1-25

Introduction to Urban Citizen: Jerry Jacks and Tony Robinson; Discussion "What do we owe each other…What do we owe our community? Why? Readings: Introduction to Soul of a Citizen and Tangled up in Red, White and Blue.

Week Two 2-1

Meet WOC and PS1 Staff: Class will be held at WOC. 1033 Santa Fe, Denver…Free Parking. Readings: None….study and think about projects in syllabus.

Week Three 2-8

Pick Project:

Week Four 2-15

Open (No Formal Class) Meet with your project advisor and set your goals for the semester. Readings: Leob: Chs. 1 and 2.

Week Five 2-22

Report on project that you chose, why? Reading/Discussion: Putman, The Strange Disappearance of Civic America; Turn in First Journal Entries (1)

Week Six 3-1

Report Progress on goals. Visit http// – link SOS8 and Piton Foundation, – link-making connections. Leob: Chs. 5-6.

Week Seven 3-8

Open: Readings: Kelly Chs. 2,3.

Week Eight 3-15

Open: Readings: Leob Chs. 7,8.

Week Nine 3-22

Report on Progress; Class discussion Kelly and Leob.

Week Ten


Week Eleven 4-5

Class discussion: Report on individual projects and Community Event.

Readings: Kelly, Chs. 4,5 and Leob, Chs. 9,10. Turn in Journal Entries (2)

Week Twelve 4-12

Open: Reading: Kelly Chs. 5,6.

Week Thirteen 4-19

Review Event Plan:

Week Fourteen 4-26

Time for Action: PRAXIS



Week Fifteen 5-3

Finish Class: Course Evaluations…Discussion: What did I learn?





Urban Citizen/WOC will engage in one neighborhood organizing project with the community, and another project working on the restoration of the Four Winds American Indian Survival Project.


The WOC project will be to help organize a major "festival" with the Save Our Section 8 Coalition. This festival will bring low-income, elderly, and disabled residents of Section 8 housing together with dozens of community supporters, for a large event meant to publicize their housing crisis, to educate the community about concerns, and to develop and build the momentum needed to compel local solutions. The festival will also be filled with music, good food, and entertainment.

The festival will be organized around Denver’s Section 8 crisis. At the present time a large property owner (Urban Inc.) has decided to sell off over a dozen Section 8 buildings, at prices making the loss of up to 4000 low-income Section 8 units probable. Two of these building are right next to the Campus: Courthouse Square and Parkway #6 (both near Speer and Colfax). These buildings house hundreds of elderly and disabled tenants who are likely to face eviction in the coming years unless a solution is found.

Urban Citizens role will be to help these residents come together, to enjoy a day of food, music and entertainment, to discover their own power and their own solutions, and to build momentum for a city-wide solution to the issue of vanishing Section 8 housing units. We will organize the music for the event, find a way to bring food to the event, arrange chairs and entertainment, and will help educate people about Denver housing issues. There will be a list of things to do or assist in and within the constraints of the "festival" you can choose what area you wish to concentrate on. This event will take place the 3rd or 4th week of April…if we all put in a solid part-time effort it will be smooth going. We have a history of successful events.


The restoration project is subject to available funding. We will finish painting a new bedroom in the Native American Women’s Empowerment Projects house and do some finishing work in the community center. We have been working together with the American Indian community on the project since 1993. Students that have finished their degrees still come and work on the project when the call for help goes out. It will be one of the most satisfying events you will participate in as a group.

All in all we have great confidence in our success this semester. We know you will learn…and have fun doing it.



P.S.1 is Denver’s first charter school; it serves a diverse clientele of 280 middle and high school aged students and their families. The school also has a night program that provides work-study credit and evening classes.

P.S.1 offers immersive, community-based curriculum that emphasizes interdisciplinary classes, service-learning opportunities, and individualized instruction. It utilizes the urban core of Denver as the primary classroom, but also offers national and international travel opportunities. P.S.1 is a small school. Its staff and governing board partners with students, parents, and community members to create learning experiences that are unique, dynamic, experiential in nature, and relevant to the young people the school serves. Learning is evaluated through standardized and performance-based assessments. The school is an excellent site for aspiring urban citizens to work with young people and their families, educators, and community partners in developing an educational program that is transformational for the learner and the community.

Teachers, parents, and community members wishing to create a viable alternative for Denver’s youth organized the school seven years ago. P.S. 1 is a public school and part of the Denver public school system. The school has attained waivers from the state of Colorado and protection as well as guidelines through the state’s charter legislation. Its charter status enables it to create and implement its innovative curriculum and assessment model, educational reform strategies, and directly serve students who have not found success or satisfaction from more conventional alternatives. Each intern is assigned to a specific teacher and or program and has a specific job description that they create based on the schools needs.

Students that return after their first semester with P.S.1 are offered stipends.


The Westside Outreach Center (WOC) is a HUD-funded center for building partnerships between the university and various low-income communities. WOC’s mission is to channel students and faculty into collaborative projects with the organizations and individuals of low-income neighborhoods, with a special focus on building projects and economics. The Westside Outreach Center is a student-driven center, supervised by co-directors professor Anthony R. Robinson and Stephanie Pelz. The Center is located on-site in the heart of Denver’s low-income Westside community at 1033 Santa Fe Drive. All paid staff of WOC are students. Students govern and manage the Center’s space and student’s design and carry out most of the community outreach projects. Leading WOC projects include: a tenant-organizing project, a neighborhood organizing/planning project, an immigrant day laborer organizing project, and providing mentoring and leadership development assistance to local K-12 schools. Paid staff positions, student stipends, and course credit are available for students working through WOC.

Individual Projects available to students of Urban Citizen:

The Immigrant Day Laborer Organizing Project:

Every day, dozens of immigrant day laborers (mostly without documents) gather at a downtown street corner seeking daily work in construction, landscaping, and other such fields. These workers are easily exploited by their employers (they are often not paid, for example), they lack access to an indoor gathering space, they lack homes and sanitation facilities, and the Denver police constantly arrest them for loitering and the like. The Day Laborer Organizing Project is working to build a powerful union of day laborers, and to advocate on their behalf with city council members, the Denver Police, and with exploitive employers. We are working to fund and build a Day Laborers Center. We are bringing workers wage claims to court, and we are building cultural activities and the like for day laborers on the street. Students wishing to join this project would be part of a team, including leadership from the American Friends Service Committee. Students could serve as field organizers (joining other staff in morning visits to the street corner, as research assistants, (gathering important data to support worker’s claims), and translators (Spanish-English), or as para-legals (helping bring wage-claim issues, etc., in front of small-claims court).

The Save Our Section 8 Tenant Organizing Project:

Hundreds of low-income Section 8 housing units are disappearing in Colorado. Many building owners are choosing not to renew their contract with the government to provide long term low-income housing units to the elderly, disabled or impoverished, and are instead opting to convert their low-income apartment building into upscale condos, lofts, or luxury apartments. Hundreds of vulnerable citizens risk eviction. Hundreds more low-income tenants face management harassment, poor housing conditions, and abuse from expletive landlords. The Save Our Section 8 Coalition (SOS8) is a project to build strong tenants’ associations in various downtown housing complexes, and unite there coalitions into city-wide tenants group that can defend tenant rights against abusive landlords, and that can compel changes in Denver housing options. The SOS8 coalition has passed housing preservation legislation through city council, has helped build a low-income housing trust fund, and was instrumental in saving the low-income East Village housing complex from upscale redevelopment by Post Properties. Students interested in working with this coalition could serve as field organizers (attending coalition meetings, and helping other staff reach out to additional buildings, educating tenants, etc.), as newsletter editors/producers, or as fund-raisers, helping to write a grant or solicit local donations.

The La Alma/Lincoln Part Neighborhood Organizing Project:

La Alma/Lincoln Park is a historically low-income neighborhood; one of Denver’s oldest, and home to one of Denver’s vibrant and politically active Latino populations, but the community is being gentrified and housing prices are rising fastest in Denver. Other changes include the expansion of Light Rail (possibly through the heart of the community). And the expansion of General hospital (involving the loss of housing units) and the proposal to build a massive new jail on the neighborhood’s border. Recently, residents have organized a strong neighborhood planning group that is trying to build the political power necessary to defend neighborhood interests against gentrification or against negative institutional encroachment (like a new jail). This planning group was instrumental in persuading voters to reject the plans for the jail in the last general election, but the Mayor looks as if he will be trying to get this jail built there by other means. Students wishing to learn how neighborhood politics works at the grass-roots level could join the planning group by acting as technical consultants helping to build a web site and regular newsletter for the group, a volunteer assistant to the neighborhood beautification campaign (helping to plan neighborhood clean-up and youth-art days), a research assistant gathering important neighborhood data and examining progressive planning efforts in other cities, or field organizer working on a chosen local campaign by canvassing the community, educating city officials, etc.

4) The Hangout Resource Center Project:

The Hangout Resource Center is a small, grass-roots organization built and led by survivors of brain injuries. The Center allows brain injury survivors to gather on a regular basis to plan social events, network among each other, engage in educational programs, and the like. This organization would love to have a short promotion/education video about their program. Already previous urban citizen students have gathered much of the footage (of meetings, interviews, etc.). Any student wishing to produce a short promotional video could use the media lab of the Westside Outreach Center, and could receive short tutorials on how to use the equipment, and could then finish the Hangout Resource Center video. Students would have access to training and equipment, and would start with a good deal of footage already.

The Westside Outreach Center Murals Project:

The Westside Outreach Center is in need of student-designed murals to grace its center. Some murals have already been produced, but there are several walls of space in the Center that could be graced by culturally relevant and/or politicized murals appropriate to such a Center. Students wishing to work in this project would work with WOC staff to conceive of murals, design them, and install them in the WOC space. Art supplies would be provided and/or scrounged by a specialist in scrounging…one of the intended benefits of being an urban citizen student.

Share this page.