Experiential Learning

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It turns out that when they call clinics “experiential learning,” they really mean it.

Emily, Buri, and I are enjoying the unique opportunity to participate in setting up a medical-legal clinic. We are seeing things from the very beginning stages and learning about all of the thought and planning that goes into a clinic before you ever meet your first client.

We drafted agreements, started a blog, communicated with healthcare professionals, researched social determinants of health, and delved into the world of poverty through research and in-depth discussion. Our experiences thus far have been both challenging and engaging; they have opened my eyes to a new world and new ways of thinking. I expected that, but I did not expect to learn so much about myself.

This was supposed to be the safe semester. We are not even taking clients. I believe that I subconsciously hoped my work this semester would be just a half a step away from the classroom context I have become so comfortable with. This was not the case. In place of the intellectually stimulating but rarely upsetting work I wanted, this clinical experience has been just that—quite an experience.

I have been forced to confront my own biases and the position from which I act and make decisions. A few short months ago, I was far less aware of these very real issues.

Through readings providing a vivid picture of poverty and homelessness, I was forced to acknowledge and adjust my view of the indigent population.

I was struck by the fact that there is no clear definition or profile for the “poor,” and there is no single party to blame. In the introduction to his book, The Working Poor, David Shipler suggests, but I will say that I believe, that society is largely to blame for poverty. Why don’t we care for our mothers, brothers, cousins, aunts who are in poverty? Yes, the individual is often responsible, but if there are poor, there is probably something wrong with our greater system. It cannot be just an isolated addiction or case of bad luck.

Mr. Shipler also addresses the morality of poverty. This is a concept I had not consciously addressed. He states that, for many, “hard work is not merely practical but also moral; its absence suggests an ethical lapse. A harsh logic dictates a harsh judgment: If a person’s diligent work leads to prosperity, if work is a moral virtue, and if anyone in the society can attain prosperity through work, then the failure to do so is a fall from righteousness.”

Do I subconsciously think this? I’ve never been very motivated by money or given it much thought in my personal life, but I’ve also never lacked it. I think that I may subconsciously give someone more value, or more credibility at least, when I learn that they make a substantial amount of money or drive an expensive car. Being the product of the twenty-first century that I am, I was quite uncomfortable admitting that this necessarily means that I place some moral judgment on those who lack social and economic success. This was directly challenged as I read countless stories of those who found themselves caught in the vicious cycle of poverty. Some lacked the hope to pull themselves out of it, and some were victims of misfortune that upset the delicate balance so many must maintain to stay out of poverty.

As we studied and discussed cultural differences and how to strive for cultural competence, I was forced to wrestle with my ability (or perhaps inability) to recognize that those who come from other cultures or family situations may communicate and think differently than me. Further, I was challenged to learn to look for similarities when they may not be obvious. I anticipate that the greatest challenge may be learning to appropriately balance the two.

As the ‘type A’ outnumbered in a very ‘type B’ family that often thinks it is the exception to every rule, I thought I was accustomed to being challenged and questioned. However, I am thrilled to say that this experience is stretching me in a new way. What a privilege to leave the confines of the classroom for “experiential learning” that is anything but safe. 

Bailey Standish

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