College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

Interdisciplinary engagement

For people with community service ingrained in them, the question is not whether to get involved, but where. Venetria Patton, head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and professor of English and African American studies, knew she would continue her work with the NAACP when she moved to the Lafayette area in 2003. However, it was an unexpected phone call about after-school care for her son that sparked a yearslong passion for the Hanna Community Center. “I spoke with the director, and the conversation left me so positive about my move that I knew this was a special place,” she says of the center and of Greater Lafayette in general.

Having lived in multiple towns, cities, and even outside of the United States as a child, Patton has always felt a strong need to dive into every community and make it her home. “It was the way I was brought up,” she says. “I had this sense that you were supposed to give back to others, that you can’t get anywhere by yourself.” Patton explains that her parents were both heavily involved in philanthropy and service work when she was a child.

As her own son has grown up in the Lafayette area, Patton has demonstrated the importance of giving back and has helped him get involved with the Hanna Community Center as well. “He is very busy with school at Purdue, but I’m hoping I have inoculated him with the community service bug,” she beams, going into detail about the service projects he has participated in through Hanna.

Not only has community engagement informed Patton’s parenting, but it has also changed her outlook on her students. “I’ve been given a different insight to my students,” she says. “I participated in a conversation about the climate for African American students in a local high school, and the experience helped me think about where the students in my own classroom might be coming from.”

Patton explains that students’ lives have evolved drastically from when she was in school. “When I was in school, I was a full-time student,” she says. “I have conversations with students at Purdue and in high school, and their time is so constrained with work and obligations that I never had to think about.”

Although Patton is busy leading the new school, she remains active in her sorority’s Family Strengthening Committee. That service allows her to work closely with Hanna on educational programs. In giving back, Patton has also developed skills in leadership and communication. “I’ve been able to develop professionally through my time on the board of the Hanna Center,” she says. “While I was giving to Hanna, they were giving me invaluable tools I use in my professional life. You can learn so much from others while giving back, and that is really powerful to me.”