Politics of Housing and Homelessness First Term Seminar Takes Learning Outside the Classroom

Posted on December 7th, 2015 by

The annual Housing and Homelessness FTS sleep out seeks to educate the Gustavus Community.

The annual Politics of Housing and Homelessness FTS sleep out seeks to educate the Gustavus Community.

For 16 first-year students, classroom learning gave way to a hands-on experience in homelessness during a three-day sleep out this November. The sleep out, now in its 15th year, is an annual tradition for students in professor Richard Leitch’s Politics of Housing and Homelessness First Term Seminar (FTS). For the three days, participants were not allowed to use personal technology, shower, change their clothes, or purchase food. The annual event strives to educate the Gustavus community about homelessness and also to raise money and necessities for Partners for Affordable Housing in Mankato.

While the class participants get a firsthand look at homelessness, the event is also designed to educate the rest of the campus. “What we do with this sleep out experience is try to expose people to what the community off campus is dealing with, but also recognize that some people from our campus are dealing with these issues as well,” Leitch said.

One of the most important aspects of the sleep out and the class is that way that it pursues excellence by taking learning outside the classroom. The opportunity to learn more than just theory, statistics, and history of homelessness provides students with a more informed insight about the realities that affect a significant portion of our population, Leitch explained. “Having a three-day, three-night sleep out is certainly innovative, because if anyone has experienced a sleep out it is usually one night a week and less than 24 hours. The College has also been incredibly supportive of this event throughout the past 15 years,” he said.

The Politics of Housing and Homelessness FTS offers students the opportunity to explore the complexities of mental health, domestic violence, veterans affairs, and socioeconomics. “This course and the sleep out go beyond the surface of the issues surrounding homelessness,” first-year student Zachary Croonquist said.


Students participating in the sleep out don’t shower, change clothes, sleep in residence halls, or use personal technology.

Throughout the course of the three-day sleep out many students were surprised by how difficult it was to maintain their classes, work, and extracurricular commitments without having the ability to sleep in their rooms or use their own technology. Class participant Viet Ha Nguyen is an international student from Vietnam. “I feel as though this sleep out has been difficult, but I have also learned a lot. Sleeping on the hard ground gets cold. I cannot imagine though what sleeping on the streets must be like,” she said on the second day of the sleep out.

Even though the experience was difficult at times, both Nguyen and Croonquist recognized the importance of the sleep out to truly understand the class. “It is easy to ignore and walk by homeless people. If you just for a second put yourself in their situation you will truly empathize and feel the urge to reach out and help,” Nguyen said. Croonquist offered advice for new students thinking about taking this course in the future. “Don’t let the sleep out hinder you from taking this course. We have had unique discussions every day. You can’t just read the description and expect to know everything. The experience educates you,” he said.

A First Term Seminar (FTS) is a course that is uniquely structured by the faculty member to educate new Gustavus Students and create skills for them to utilize throughout their college experience. FTS courses promote both an empathetic examination of the values of others and the development and articulation of one’s own values as part of a liberal arts education that encourages responsible use of knowledge.  Indeed, a focus on values permeates the FTS Program, shaping the program’s goals in writing, oral communication, critical thinking, and advising. To learn more about the program at Gustavus, visit the FTS website.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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