The Center for Community-Engaged Learning has a deep commitment to providing high-quality community engagement experiences for University students. Historically, “students” was often coded language for white, middle-class, American-born, and traditionally aged. As higher education has changed in many ways, so have our student populations and therefore our approach to community engagement also needs to be revisited. The process of crossing boundaries - geographic, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and others - has the potential to catalyze transformative learning for students.
In 2016, CCEL received a Transformation Award through the Office for Equity and Diversity to investigate how issues of race are currently addressed in service-learning classes and to identify gaps as well as strengths we can build on in future efforts to better support faculty in this work. Practitioners of service-learning have long been aware that if students do not engage in rigorous and critical reflection on their service-learning experiences, those experiences also have the potential to reinforce their preexisting assumptions and stereotypes. This means that faculty members teaching service-learning classes play a crucial role in fostering their students’ productive and transformative learning from their service experiences. We believe that this must entail directly engaging students in reflection on race, racism, and racial disparities when they encounter these in the community, but we also know that many faculty feel they lack expertise to facilitate these reflections, especially when their academic disciplines do not typically address these issues.
In 2017, CCEL received a two-year grant from the International Student Services Fee Committee to better support international students and community organizations in community engagement work. We know that community engagement can have positive impact across many student dimensions including academic learning, social development, career exploration and civic responsibility and we want to make sure that these benefits extend to our international student community.