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Students Talk about Service Learning

Pitzer College

Michelle Siqueiros, a graduate student in urban planning, reflects on her community service experiences.

My research into multi-ethnic conflict among Latino/as and Asian Americans in the Alhambra school district demonstrated that superficial celebrations of diversity are not enough to engender respect among minority groups. I was confronted with the reality of minority-minority relations and challenges to the black/white paradigm for discussing race. As a Chicana, I wanted to learn how to contribute positively to my own community. These experiences have made me more capable of productively confronting tensions and conflicts which arise among different ethnic groups as well as recognizing that there are moments of true cooperation as well.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Kendra Pissara reflects on her experience in a service-learning course in which she worked in a residential drug treatment center for young women and children.

I believe through service-learning efforts we can be made to regain what we have lost in the deterioration of our democratic community. I believe only service learning can bridge the schism between the division of the "others." The nature of my service allowed me to interact with all eighteen women and the children....These women shared their lives with me. I heard tragedies of the past and stories of addictions, child abuse, domestic violence....

However, there was an equally powerful positive side as well....[I found] a community of support, trust, faith, and hope....Here women learn to get their lives back, to love themselves, and to learn the skills and tools to prepare them for a life of independence and freedom from drugs. As citizens we too must build our "selves." We must recognize our self in the context of a community. We must see our role as citizens as interdependent and interactive....I recognize the borders I have crossed that have enabled me to redefine myself as a more active citizen in my community.

University of South Carolina

An undergraduate student reflects on his experience working with low-income families on a rural community service project in South Carolina.

There is something that I'm not proud of; I always considered myself open-minded and not prejudiced, but when I worked at Sharon's house [Sharon is an African American woman who needed some repairs done to her home] it reminded me that some of my previous thinking about the poor had been based on stereotypes. I mean, I've always kind of thought in the back of my mind that people become poor or destitute because they are not motivated or not as intelligent. But Sharon has a master's degree and is very articulate. I see now that there may be many causes or barriers that people face that can limit them. It was an eye-opener, and I see now that I was carrying this misconception about their being to blame for their plight.

Communication Tips News stories on service learning highlight new campus-community connections and undermine the public perception that colleges and universities are isolated from the communities around them. Often, these stories emphasize the benefits to the community when students help people in need. Because some news stories on service learning have offered condescending portrayals of the people receiving help, it is important to emphasize that students are not merely altruistic, but do this work because they benefit from it themselves. When promoting stories on service learning, point out that students in these programs learn to better understand their community and the diverse people who comprise it.
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