STORY BY MAURA SCOTT
Recently, it seems like going on a service-learning trip has become a rite of passage for young adults attending a liberal arts college.
The phrase “service learning trip” has become a collegiate buzzword.
The phrase conjures up an image of a Facebook profile picture of some white student surrounded by five small African orphans.
While there is no doubt that they did more than just pose with children, the authenticity of certain service projects can be questioned, and often, it’s for good reason.
While service-learning trips seem to be doing good in theory, they do not come without negative possibilities.
Issues arise when service learning encourages a “one-time volunteerism” mentality, while lacking to discuss the institutional or systematic issues that can be the true cause of certain conditions.
In other words, it should go further than just picking up trash or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Now, I am not saying that all service like that is bad.
Charity is not a bad word, and people do great things through the work of charity.
But while charity does have its uses, it does not dig deep enough to analyze the real issues, and gives a false sense of accomplishment.
John W. Eby, Professor of Sociology and Director of Service-Learning at Messiah College, finds that “If the service-learning movement is to reach maturity and live up to its potential, it must realistically face its limitations and broaden its emphasis beyond volunteerism,” he said.
“It must carefully examine what students learn about social problems and social structure through the kind of service learning does,” he said.
“It must examine the subtle effects of service on communities.”
The lack of further understanding is only one of the problems associated with service learning.
The student’s privilege can affect their experience in ways that could be unnoticeable.
Understanding privilege is difficult, but it is vital to recognize your place in society compared to those who you are working with.
Drake students are educated, the majority are white and middle class, and have been offered opportunities that many people haven’t.
When put into certain situations, there is the threat of acting superior.
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for how to participate in service-learning trips perfectly.
Mistakes and assumptions will always be made.
What matters most is what is done after those mistakes are made.
If lessons are learned, you can prevent yourself from making further mistakes. Here is the best advice I can offer you.
Listen to the stories of those you are helping, validate their experiences and understand their struggle.
Ask questions. Here’s a tip: You don’t know better.
Engage with those you are working with for deeper understanding.
Analyze and see ways that the work you are doing connects to you and the community around you. You are also a part of their story.
Just remember: Service learning must go beyond “good intentions” and into a state that encourages understanding and social change.
Most importantly it must encourage solidarity.