Arts-Based Methods and Transformative Pedagogy in the Bronx

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Through the lens of a case example, this article examines the impact of an arts-based semester-long assignment on students enrolled in an undergraduate social work course on gerontology. Part of the City University of New York, Lehman College is a federally designated Hispanic-serving four-year institution serving the Bronx. Many of its students qualify for federal aid and are first-generation college students for whom English is a second language. Residents of the Bronx experience some of the worst social, health, and economic outcomes in the United States. Providing opportunities to challenge the current narrative for some of the city’s most under-served members can be transformative on both a personal and social level. Combining creative writing and photography, the assignment required that students picture themselves at age 75, capturing personal, environmental, and social-structural factors affecting life course outcomes. The innovative assignment exceeded pedagogical goals. Students acquired new knowledge and skills, developed new attitudes about advanced age, and discovered new aptitudes and interests that can engender better outcomes for older adults, in general, once students enter gerontology professions, and for themselves as they reach late life. The case example demonstrates how arts-based pedagogy can be transformative on both individual and social levels. In addition to describing the assignment, the article provides a guide for replication. Further, it argues for extending the reach of arts-based pedagogies to promote personal and societal change for some of societies’ most vulnerable members, today and tomorrow’s older adults living in the Bronx, and other under-served urban communities.