Reflections of a Director

After five years with the McCarthy Center, outgoing Senior Director Dave Donahue reflects on the evolution of the Center’s programs and his thoughts on reaching the current moments in our society.

Five years in the McCarthy Center. And what five years!  When I started the job in the fall of 2015, no one would have imagined a pandemic that would send our students home and move all our teaching and learning online. No one would have imagined Donald Trump as president. And police murders like the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri did not spark the kind of national reckoning with white supremacy we begin to see today.

This month, I prepare for the next stage in my professional life, returning to the space where it began – the classroom, or in the era of coronavirus, the Zoom room. Starting on August 1, I will be returning to faculty and teaching full time in the School of Education. Throughout my time as director of the McCarthy Center, I have taught one class a year, made guest appearances in many others, and advised students on capstones, theses, and dissertations. I think of this work with students as among the most meaningful and rewarding because it foregrounded what is most special about USF – the students and their commitment to using education for the common good.

While I am looking forward with anticipation – and maybe just a little bit of nervousness about whether I’ve really mastered zoom breakout rooms or online video recording – I can’t also be a bit nostalgic about looking back on all that has happened in the last five years in the McCarthy Center and acknowledge that the work of the Center is truly the product of team effort and wisdom.  The staff, students, and friends of the Center deserve recognition for all they have done.  Here are three of the biggest highlights of the last five years.

The growth and evolution of Engage San Francisco. This initiative connecting the university with our neighbors in the Fillmore/Western Addition for the benefit of both has accomplished so much: a Changemakers book documenting the history of Black leadership in San Francisco; a literacy program supporting youth year-round during school and after school; a community partner innovation fund to nurture collaboration between students, faculty, and community; pop up health clinics in the neighborhood and so much more. Engage San Francisco and its staff have become leaders nationally in community-university partnership and racial justice.

The evolution of service learning to community-engaged learning. Historically, one of the main responsibilities of the Center since its founding was to ensure the high quality of service learning for every undergraduate student. Over the last five years, the Center led the effort to transform that requirement to community engaged learning to foster critical perspectives on social issues and build more mutually beneficial and reciprocal partnerships. Again, this change puts USF in a position of leadership nationally in community-engaged learning and scholarship.

The development and implementation of new programs meeting current needs. As the times have changed, so have the Center’s programs. The November, 2016 election was a watershed. Listening to our students, we responded to meet their desires. We created the Community Empowerment Activist program to develop students’ abilities to organize, mobilize, and advocate for communities against power, privilege, and oppression. We drew on the success of the McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento to create a similar program in San Francisco focused on public service for equity at the municipal level. We launched USFVotes to register, educate, and turn out voters. In the three years since its start, it has doubled our registration and voter rates, setting USF students on a life-long habit of political engagement through voting.

Knowing the commitment of all the Center’s staff and stakeholders, I am convinced the next five years will be as generative and innovative, keeping USF at the forefront of education for equity and justice.

Learn more about the Center’s commitment to racial equity and justice in its Commitment to an Antiracist Center.

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