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The DukeEngage Communications team interviewed Jacques Pierre, lecturer in Haitian Creole & Creole Studies, co-director, Haiti Lab, and the faculty director of DukeEngage-Miami. This profile is part of an interview series that aims to share how DukeEngage programs impact community members, partners, and students. Follow us on Instagram for more content like this!

What sparked your idea for a DukeEngage program?

I was invited by my colleague, Joan Clifford, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Romance Studies, to co-direct the program (with her) three years ago. Throughout my adult life I have been interested in working with organizations whose mission is to defend the rights of the vulnerable ones. When Joan asked me to completely take over this program last year, that was a dream come true. First, Miami is a place I know pretty well, and am aware of a lot of challenges many communities face living there. To me, this was an opportunity to come into contact with several non-profit organizations to see how I could work together with them on many issues that I hold dear to my heart. Second, I see this as an opportunity to recruit a cohort of motivated, passionate, and energetic Duke students every summer to help the non-profit organizations to serve more people. Third, I truly believe the non-profit organizations will instill in our DukeEngage students passion, love, and compassion for under-served communities while serving them with dignity and humility. Overall, my idea for DukeEngage this year and the years to come is to give more and more students the opportunity to develop a sense of serving others while learning from others’ experiences that might not in the academic books they are reading for their degree.

What do you believe students have taken away from the experience over the years?

Each student gets a set of various skills depending on the organization they were matched with. However, there’s an overlap between the skills they all get. First, they have the pleasure of serving others, especially the ones who are constantly left behind. Second, this experience helps the students to develop a keen sense of receptivity and attention to the plight of people who are dealing with many issues such as immigration issues, domestic violence and so on. Finally, it helps students figure out how to quickly develop teamwork skills to make their eight-week pleasant and enjoyable.

2019 DukeEngage-Miami participants
2019 DukeEngage-Miami participants. Photo provided by Shaiv Kittur.

What benefit does your DukeEngage program offer the community/partners?

 It’s a win-win situation. Our students are a huge help to these understaffed non-profit organizations that are serving a great deal of people from diverse linguistics communities and various social backgrounds. DukeEngage students are always a good fit because they bring their skills to these organizations to help them fulfill the need of their clients. Also, DukeEngage students learn a great deal from these organizations through hands-on experience and through the narratives of many clients they were lucky to serve during their eight-week internship.

What will you miss most about not running a program this summer?

I will miss seeing our students make a difference in the lives of many peoples via the partners of DukeEngage-Miami. Also, I will miss seeing our students sharing their experiences with each other during our weekly meeting. Through these meetings, students usually talk about how unaware they were of the struggles of a lot of minorities living in the United States before taking part in DukeEngage. Most importantly, from these meetings I noticed students are compelled by the desire to serve rather than to make a profit. Overall, every summer is an opportunity for me and DukeEngage students to learn from people who have been advocating for years for the rights of prisoners, immigrants, and others, how difficult it is for under-served communities to navigate through the justice system.

What’s your advice on how to stay engaged while socially apart?

Check on your family and friends who are far away from you. Reach out to elders who may need your help while protecting yourself. The more you protect yourself, the more your immediate environment will be safe and the quicker we will beat Covid-19 together. While taking all these measures, make sure you find something pleasant to do at home such as reading, watching movies, and writing. Finally, think of a project where you could work remotely with a community partner of DukeEngage or a with an organization you have worked with the past. If you need advice on how to come up with a viable project, do not hesitate to contact your program director or DukeEngage staff to help you.