Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

College Students' Negotiation of Privilege in a Community-Based Violence Prevention Project

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

College Students' Negotiation of Privilege in a Community-Based Violence Prevention Project

Article excerpt

Over the past two and a half decades, there has been an enhanced national interest and a growing scholarly attention to the theory, practice, and value of service-learning experiences across the educational spectrum. While no consensus has been reached around a single, overarching definition of service-learning, it has instead been widely conceptualized as both a pedagogy and philosophy (Butin, 2010; Mitchell, 2008). Prevailing scholarly analysis of service-learning has tended to link theory and practice by integrating key elements of reflection and social action into academic curricula designed to enhance student learning and meet community needs through service (Peterson, 2009). Conventionally, service-learning scholarship has focused through the prism of students' experiences, and the attendant educational benefits of participation. For instance, a variety of studies have explored the relationship between service-learning and student outcomes along personal, social, and cognitive dimensions (Eyler, Giles, & Braxton, 1996). Studies also have noted gains in student learning and civic engagement (Litke, 2002; Mercer & Ilustre, 2002; Moely, McFarland, Miron, Mercer, & Ilustre, 2002). Students participating in service-learning experiences have been shown to be more tolerant and culturally aware, and have benefited from opportunities to develop leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills more so than their non-service-learning peers (Astin & Sax, 1998; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Peterson, 2009).

An emerging scholarly trend, however, has viewed service-learning not exclusively from the students' experiences but also has acknowledged the potential social change aspects of the enterprise. As Brown (2001) aptly noted, "service-learning traditionally works toward a "mutual" or "shared" benefit outcome--benefits for enhancing the student's educational activities as well as her/his civic engagement, and benefits to the community in which the student serves" (p. 10). While recognizing the benefits to students of community participation, this school of thought has advocated for applying a more critical lens that situates students' community engagement within systems of social inequality. Kiely (2005), for example, has argued that scholarship has tended to emphasize the content and outcomes of student learning in service-learning experiences to the relative neglect of studies examining processes and contextual factors that impact such outcomes and are fundamental to understanding critical and transformational learning in such programs.

Thus, two distinct models of service-learning have developed--the charity model and change model-each with different sets of moral, political, and intellectual traditions as well as different goals and objectives (Morton, 1995; Westheimer & Kahne, 1994). Implicit in a traditional conception of service as charity is what has been described as a "false understanding of need" (Eby, 1998, p. 3), suggesting that communities have deficits that others can fill through service. But this charity model comes with significant, if subtle, risks that privilege those doing the service relative to those having their needs served. In particular, some service-learning programs tend to be oriented toward an apolitical volunteerism and charity where students are engaged with a community to provide a service and then relate that service experience to their classroom learning (Brown, 2001). While attention to individuals and communities at the core of volunteerism tends to be driven by altruistic goals, critics have pointed out that this service orientation does not go deep enough, stopping short of a fundamental exploration of more complex sociopolitical dynamics that underlie larger social problems. As Brown noted, "what the focus on volunteerism tends to do, then, is to place the focus on individuals and communities rather than on complex dominant socio-political systems that either create or could possibly alleviate the problems that create the need for volunteers" (p. …

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