Saturday, December 27, 2014

Everyday Sociology: Who is Best Served by Service Learning?

Community engagement is one of my areas of interest. Teresa Irene Gonzales of Everyday Sociology posted a blog post about community engagement and service learning. More importantly, she discusses the importance of reciprocity -- that service learning should involve benefits for both community residents and faculty and staff. Too often, service learning (students generally participate for academic credit) is implemented as a one-sided project that leaves out the input / needs of the community residents.

Some colleges view community-engagement as a form of service and require students to clock-in service-learning hours via volunteerism. The belief is that students have useful skills and resources (particularly time) that may benefit a variety of communities. Through their work in various different types of communities, the students in turn gain work and educational experiences.

If implemented with only the university’s goals in mind, this process, however beneficial it may be to students, can unintentionally replicate social inequities and may place a further burden on the off-campus community group or agency that partners with the university.

Community-engagement often centers on low-income neighborhoods and residents that are within close proximity of the university. This perception of what is meant by “the community” inherently sets up a class-based dichotomy of the wealthy university (“the gown”) that has the resources (time, money, technical expertise) to help the poor communities (“the town”) that surround it.

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