Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Fostering a Sense of Justice through International Service-Learning

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Fostering a Sense of Justice through International Service-Learning

Article excerpt


This article addresses the question about how international service-learning programs can contribute to fostering a sense of justice in students. The data presented derives from a series of semi-structured interviews, observations, informal conversations, and written reflections collected during the International Partnership for Service-Learning program (IPSL) in Guayaquil, Ecuador in the summer of 2001. This work highlights three outcomes from the students' program participation which relate to their better understanding of societal issues, their growing sense of responsibility, and their commitment to social action.


We have entered the new millennium and many of us talk about the decadence of values in our society. Many researchers assert that our society is becoming more individualistic and narcissistic (Bellah et al., 1986). In order to alleviate this common concern, universities are becoming more interested in educating active citizens who will serve the common good of a global society. One way is through the incorporation of community-based experiential learning programs in the academic curricula such as the so called "service-learning" programs. This article addresses how students' senses of justice can be nurtured by their participation in international service-learning programs. If our aim as citizens is to endorse the development of a better society, we must allow the flourishing of a type of consciousness that will lead to becoming more active global citizens. Citizens must develop a deep sense of social justice in order to sustain a democratic society.

Literature Review

Justice is a moral principle that assumes a fair and equal treatment of all members of society (Rawls, 1971). Rawls presents justice as a moral stance through which individuals try to ensure that every person has equal rights. Law and policy makers have interpreted the concept "equal rights" as giving everyone the same treatment. However, in his words, Rawls had the idea not of a society that was uniform and lacked particular individual differences, but a society where people acted towards diminishing social and economic disparities and which helped create a more homogeneous place. For Rawls, a sense of justice is a set of beliefs that a person holds through which this individual maintains fair social cooperation. A sense of justice leads individuals to rationalize more profoundly on social issues, become more critical and strive for fair treatment and conditions for all.

Striving for justice entails striving for the fair treatment and conditions of all members in our society. Campbell (1988) presents justice as an active sensibility which implies "responding appropriately to the perpetration of injustice" (p. 3). Students involved in service-learning projects are directed by a "justice as fairness" mentality, which takes them to employ rationality to engage in service projects (Varlotta, 1997; McEwen, 1996). This rationalization of social problems gives the learner a desire to transform society (Varlotta, 1997). Whether this transformation is radical or not, service-learning does bring about social change by engaging participants in activities for the good of the group they serve. Eyler & Giles (1999) express this new attitude toward social change by suggesting that service-learning can push students to rethink their view of the world and their future role in it (p. 132). This article provides empirical evidence of ways students developed their sense of justice through their participation in the International Partnership for Service-Learning program in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The International Partnership for Service-Learning

The International Partnership for Service-Learning is a not-for-profit organization which has served for over two decades colleges, universities, service agencies and related organizations around the world by fostering programs that link community service and academic study. …

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