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Teresa Ramos

The Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) joins a long history of critique, challenge and transformation of higher education. EUI courses are an important site for the creation of non-traditional narratives in which students challenge 'business-as-usual' in higher education. For under-represented students, this includes inquiry and analysis of the racial status quo at the University. In this article, I provide a student's perspective on EUI through my own experiences with EUI research as both an undergraduate and later graduate student investigating race and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). Using ethnographic methods and drawing on critical race theory, I provide two examples of EUI research that critiqued the University's management of race. The first example is a collaborative ethnography of the Brown versus Board of Education Commemoration at U of I – a project that I joined as an undergraduate (Abelmann et al. 2007); and the second is my own dissertation on 'racial risk management', a project that emerged from my encounter with EUI. I discuss both projects as examples of Critical Race Ethnography, namely works based on empirical research that challenge institutions' racial composition, structure and climate.

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This special issue is dedicated to William F. Kelleher (1950–2013), inspiring teacher, brilliant thinker, activist scholar and co-founder of the Ethnography of the University Initiative

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Gina Hunter and Nancy Abelmann

Welcome to this special issue of Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences. As guest editors, we are delighted to be able to share the experiences of the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI, www.eui.uiuc.edu), a multi-disciplinary course-based initiative that fosters student research on their own universities and is

housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). EUI is at once a pedagogical approach, a teaching community and a digital archive. EUI also works as a research agenda committed to student engagement with university practice and policy – and thus to institutional critique. In this editorial introduction, we provide an overview of EUI’s history, innovations, organisational structure and guiding values. We also introduce this issue’s authors – faculty members, an administrator and a former student – all of whom have taught with EUI and have documented here the ways in which taking the university as a research subject transformed their courses and teaching, and in some cases, their programmes and learning.

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Timothy Reese Cain

This concluding contribution to the special issue on the Ethnography of the University Initiative based at the University of Illinois locates the project at the intersections of several of the main currents in modern higher education: the push for undergraduate research, calls for critical inquiry into higher education, an interest in pedagogical communities and excitement over technological innovation. It further identifies the challenges facing EUI as it enters its second decade.

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Siobhan B. Somerville

This article offers a first-person account of the author's experience teaching an undergraduate course on local queer culture, using her own campus as the site for primary research. The course asks how students might understand the role of Midwestern public universities in the production of queer culture. And how might such knowledge revise understandings of queer culture and its locations, both in the past and in the present? The author describes the course design, the goals of introducing undergraduate students to two scholarly methods (archival research and ethnography) and a number of original research projects undertaken by students.

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Priscilla Fortier

This article describes the findings of an undergraduate Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) course in which students examined the university's efforts to improve the racial climate of the campus. These institutional efforts are intended to create a more comfortable environment for under-represented minority students who often comprise a significantly smaller group on campus than in their home neighbourhoods and high schools. Many minority group students experience isolation and discomfort connected to a lack of 'ownership' of campus spaces and traditions, which tend to be monopolised by white students. In my EUI class, which was sponsored by the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) at the University of Illinois (U of I), under-represented minority students focused their ethnographic projects specifically on campus-sponsored programmes intended to facilitate interaction across racial and ethnic groups. Of particular interest to students were programmes related to residence halls and campus social spaces. The findings presented here indicate that campus-sponsored programmes to increase race awareness that depend upon students' voluntary participation may be less effective in bringing students together than required classroom-based programmes and informal interaction through shared extra-curricular passions.

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Catherine Prendergast

This article reports on the multi-year collaboration between the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) at the University of Illinois and the University's Rhetoric Program, a required first-year writing course. I argue that this collaboration was successful in large part because the goals of writing programmes in American higher education settings – teaching the process of research, inviting students to see themselves as producers of knowledge and fostering collaboration between peers – are highly consonant with principles of EUI. Indeed, my own history with EUI reflects the parallel commitment of Writing Studies and the methods and goals of EUI. I suggest that EUI can serve as a powerful model for universities if they seek to place undergraduate student research writing at the core of their mission.

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Claire Cororaton and Richard Handler

This article documents and analyses the uneasy, if not contradictory, relationship between service learning and liberal arts thinking in an undergraduate programme in Global Development Studies (GDS) at a North American University. As an undergraduate, Cororaton participated in a service-learning project to build a greenhouse in Mongolia; at the same time, the curriculum of her major (GDS, a programme directed by Handler) was developing a critique of such service projects, focusing on their lack of political self-consciousness. The authors contextualise the story within the university's ongoing attempts to enhance its global profile.

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Chaise Ladousa

This article explores representations emergent in discourse about service learning in an effort to understand what gives the notion special value. A job presentation of a candidate for dean of faculty, articles published in a college newspaper, descriptions posted on a college website and commentary offered in an interview with a student demonstrate that representations of service learning are salient in multiple contexts and presuppose the potential to transform the lives of everyone involved. This article identifies one of the discursive constructs making transformation possible – even inevitable – in reflections on service learning, and uses the construct to explore how it shapes a single instance of service learning's failure.

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Bonnie Urciuoli

Service learning and other engaged scholarship programmes ideally operate in an academic framework to enhance student understanding of citizenship and community engagement. In reality, given the constraints on institutional budgets, such programmes are likely to be underfunded and academically understaffed. Structured as choices on an institutional menu, programmes are routinely touted as transformative though what they transform may be indeterminate. The ways in which such programmes are presented encourage students to interpret transformation as personal experience, valued to the extent that students can do good in the world by acting as agents of progress, solving problems for people imagined to need their expertise, ideally in exotic settings as unlike students' routine lives as possible, while students develop skills and connections useful in their post-college careers. This construction of engaged scholarship readily lends itself to institutional promotional language but can undermine students' effective action in actual projects.