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Institutional Purposes for Service-learning

Concerns about the motivation of institutions to provide service-learning opportunities for students and the ethical implications of working in communities have drawn the attention of scholars. For example, Ward and Wolf-Wendell (2000) argued for a new service-learning paradigm that emphasized collaboration with communities and mutuality, especially for predominantly white institutions (PWI) engaged with communities of color. Earlier work on minority-serving institutions (historically black colleges, tribal colleges, and Hispanic-serving institutions) suggested that unlike PWIs, these mission-specific institutions have integrated servicelearning into their missions (Ward, 1996; Ward & Grant, 1996). The mission of institutions, then, appears to be associated with how servicelearning is conceptualized and enacted.

How service to communities correlates with the mission of universities has been examined, and findings suggest that mission is a relevant organizational factor when assessing an institution’s commitment or institutionalization of community engagement (Holland, 1997,1999). In particular, Bringle & Hatcher’s (2000) examination of the level of institutionalization of service-learning, and the differences in the implementation of servicelearning, suggested that private liberal arts colleges, religious colleges, commuter colleges, and urban universities are better able to institutionalize service ethics in their missions through their service-learning programs.

For institutions whose founding mission is informed by principles of social justice and equity, the institutionalization of service-learning brings an additional consideration. Proposed by Butin (2007) as a way to conceptualize service-learning at the intersection of social justice, “justicelearning” is an equity framework that avoids the dichotomy of purpose in service-learning. For many institutions whose foundational mission is anchored to principles of justice and service, a dichotomy of purpose in service-learning efforts (“individualistic charity orientation,” or “activism”) (p. 178) presents a particular institutional challenge. Sokol ct al. (2020) give a view of the tension that arises with this dichotomy when a Jesuit university sets out to create a community service and engagement center. Community' engagement programs in a Jesuit university', Sokol et al. assert, must negotiate the “structural and personal modalities of justice” (p. 45) in order to engage in justice education through community engagement.

The concerns about balancing individual student development and social justice in service-learning programs have led researchers to assess the impact of service-learning programs on communities. Ferrari and Worrall (2000) investigated community organizations’ perspectives of servicelearning students and found that, in general, students were perceived as providing a useful service to constituents, were respectfill to clients, and were sensitive to clients’ needs. To maximize the impact of service-learning on students, as well as the community, and the university, however, Chupp and Joseph (2010) assert that “authentic” relationships at the levels of the student, the community, and the university' are necessary to enact social justice and change. Most importantly, Chupp and Joseph identify that a central element of these relationships is structured critical reflection activities for students, including group discussion, and discussion with community groups. Research has shown that the integration of theory (academic content) and practice (service) promotes students’ critical thinking and moral development (Mayhew & Fernandez, 2007; Nokes et al., 2005; Sedlak et al., 2003), but a key condition is a structured opportunity for student reflection that is pedagogically sound (Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede, 1996; Schmidt & Brown, 2016).

In sum, how an institution is able to link its mission to service-learning programming, and how that programming is composed of pedagogical best practices that nurture and develop students’ critical thinking, will enable the enactment of social justice ethics in students’ community engagement. This chapter extends our knowledge of the PULSE program beyond earlier work by Seidcr and Novick (2012) and Seider et al., 2011 in which PULSE students were sampled. This work focused on PULSE students’ learning and their engagement with service-learning, and demonstrated that PULSE students shift toward an understanding of poverty as a result not of an individual’s motivation, but of structural, systemic causes. Additionally, Stcrk Barrett’s (2016) study on the effects of PULSE on students’ spiritual growth demonstrated that students’ belief in the interconnectedness of humanity and in service to humanity was impacted positively by their PULSE experience.

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