Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Diversity Work and Service-Learning: Understanding Campus Dynamics

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Diversity Work and Service-Learning: Understanding Campus Dynamics

Article excerpt

In many service-learning situations, students work in communities composed of people socio-economically or racially different from themselves. As the prevalence of service-learning grows on college campuses, attention to the issues around training students to participate meaningfully in such communities needs to expand. Participating in service-learning is one of many potential situations in which students deal with diversity while in college, but it has important implications for college and community relationships in general, and warrants special attention.

Beyond undergraduate service-learning, there is well-documented evidence that many higher education institutions are striving to become more meaningfully engaged in local communities, through concerted efforts that bring university resources to a community partnership. These partnerships inevitably must address diversity issues, as there are many significant differences between academic and community cultures.

There is a significant and growing body of research on college diversity issues in general, but we lack studies that address how institutions are integrating diversity and commitments to partner with local communities. There are also numerous examples of single institution-community partnerships described in the literature, and such descriptions are enormously helpful for other institutions facing similar issues. This particular study takes several individual institution models, examining them broadly from an organizational perspective.

Additionally, this research explores the connections between campus-community partnerships (specifically looking at service-learning) and other diversity-related campus efforts. This study complements knowledge gained from individual models by examining the broader organizational forces that support or hinder diversity and service-learning collaborations.

History of Service-Learning and Multicultural Education Movements

Both the service-learning and diversity movements challenge the traditional curriculum and practices in higher education. Both are potentially transformative approaches because they call for radical changes in the way we think about learning, teaching, curriculum, and research. Yet this potential has not been reached at many institutions; instead, both service-learning and multiculturalism are often marginalized on campus. Furthermore, though service-learning and multiculturalism share the experience of marginalization, this has not drawn them closer to each other. There is still a strong tendency to separate and compartmentalize these two efforts on college campuses. A brief look at the movements' histories sheds light on this division.

Multiculturalism emerges from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (Beckham, 1999; O'Grady, 2000). Banks (2001) traces multiculturalism's intellectual roots back to the early ethnic studies movement of the late 19th century. Service-learning, by comparison, draws from education theorist John Dewey's work, experiential education, and the community action programs of the 1960s and 1970s (Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999). Neither movement is monolithic, but both have some roots in social justice issues. Indeed, as is discussed in this study, social justice concerns might be the focus when diversity and service-learning efforts are coordinated.

Among service-learning practitioners, however, there is not agreement that social justice or moral values ought to be the primary outcome (Zlotkowski, 1996; Marullo & Edwards, 2000). Rather, there is much evidence that enhanced learning for students has been (or should be) the aim of mainstream practitioners. Large studies have informed the student learning focus (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Vogelgesang & Astin, 2000). Likewise, some proponents of diversity work focus on how diversity enhances learning for all students, while others place more emphasis on social justice issues of equity in educational access and outcomes for all students. …

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