Sonia Nieto University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Years ago, our younger daughter, Marisa, then about 11 years old, was taking part in an organized walk to raise money for an organization that brings young men from urban areas to attend our local high school. I remember someone saying to me, "Oh, it's great that she's learning to do charity work so young."
At first taken aback by the term, I realized that in a particular frame of reference, "charity work" was exactly what Marisa was doing. But I had not thought of it in this way. The term charity has always bothered me because it implies a detached beneficence that comes from privilege. Civic obligation is missing in charity work. Similarly, there is no sense of civic responsibility in some conceptions of community service learning.
Community service: the very phrase conjures up images of doing good deeds in impoverished, disadvantaged (primarily Black and Brown) communities by those (mostly White people) who are wealthier and more privileged. The parenthetical terms are seldom expressly mentioned in community service because they make some professors and students uncomfortable, exposing the inequalities around them too explicitly. There is a feeling of noblesse oblige in community service, of doing something to feel righteous, to "do my part." This book challenges the perception of community service as charity, replacing it with the notion of civic responsibility in a pluralistic but unequal society.
What exactly is community service learning? What is its place in colleges and universities, particularly those in or near communities in need? At the heart of these questions is the issue of difference. One cannot help but notice, for instance, that the primary recipients of community service are those who society has deemed disadvantaged in some way, be it through their social class, race, ethnicity, ability, or any combination of these. Those who do community service at colleges and universities, on the other hand, are generally young people who have