Thursday, March 27, 2008

Showing My Cards

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Kibbs that a mission statement could go a long way in helping us verbalize our place in the Calvin community and articulate Calvin's relationship with Grand Rapids. I think it could also help us push the envelope better by giving us a framework with which to hold Calvin accountable to the third leg of its mission. Finally, it could help us set some exciting goals for integrating service-learning work with the missions of other student organizations like the Social Justice Committee and the Environmental Stewardship Coalition. If we have a mission statement that invokes the value of social justice, we could maybe then garner more visible recognition among the student body as a resource for students who want to engage in action for social change. A lot of our student staff do this kind of work already, but we have recognized some disconnect between our work and the work of many students who do service-learning.

One of my projects this year has been examining the mission statements and organizational structures of service-learning programs at peer institutions. This is a fascinating topic - well, at least to me!

To get the ball rolling, I've selected a few of the most interesting mission statements from the institutions I studied. Let me know - do you find them articulate, vague, wordy, provocative, stimulating, thought-provoking? What parts would we want in a mission statement of our own?
The Service Learning Institute
Cal State University, Monterey Bay"The mission of the Service Learning Institute is to foster and promote social justice by cultivating reciprocal service and learning partnerships among CSUMB students, faculty, staff and the surrounding tri-county community."

The mission statement comes with a longer Philosophy Statement and the following Student Learning Goal: "Our goal is for CSUMB students to become multicultural community builders: students who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to work effectively in a diverse society to create more just and equitable workplaces, communities and social institutions."
Elon University
Kernodle Center for Service Learning
"The Kernodle Center for Service Learning at Elon University, in partnership with local and global communities, advances student learning, leadership, and citizenship to prepare students for lives of active community engagement within a complex and changing world."

Marquette University
Service Learning Program
"Following in the Jesuit tradition of faithful service, the Service Learning Program at Marquette University facilitates student academic learning through meaningful service experiences, which encourage and enable Marquette's faculty and students to positively impact the community. The Service Learning Program seeks to bring campus and community together in partnership to share resources, meet real community needs, and help to educate women and men to become the change agents of tomorrow."
Trinity College (CT)
Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement
"The mission of the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement is to build strong, sustainable partnerships with the Hartford community and to strengthen service, community commitment, and civic responsibility as central to Trinity's institutional mission as well as to the experience of each member of the Trinity College community. The Office realizes this mission through the creation and implementation of a comprehensive and cohesive array of civic and service programs that engage students, faculty, administration, staff, and alumni."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Service-Learning: A Luxury Reserved for the Powerful?

Is service-learning merely a nicety, an extra-curricular activity reserved for those with the luxury of spare time? The luxury of spare time often correlates with power, constituted by affluence and influence. Is it then that service-learning is the tool of those with power, set over and against the marginalized? As such, do the claims of service-learning theorists and practitioners to promote justice and reciprocity ring hollow with the vacuous tones of hypocrisy? I think these are questions any service-learning practitioner must face, and do so with the real possibility that the answers could draw into question some some of the basic foundations concerning one's interactions with the world. If we cannot question the very motivations and meanings latent within the radical practice of service-learning that we advocate for, then what substantial benefit can we possibly have?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Mission Statements

I agree with Bryan about a mission statement for the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College.  It would be great if we could come up with a clear, modest, and easy-to-hold-accountable mission statement.

Part of the challenge in coming up with one is the multi-dimensional nature of the work we do.  I have mentioned before that there are at least three primary and distinct populations that our work is designed to serve: students at Calvin, local partner agencies, and faculty at Calvin.  Developing a concise mission statement runs the risk of preferencing one of these groups over the other.  It doesn't have to do this, but it runs this risk.  For example, is it our mission to participate in the education of Calvin students, assist in their faith formation, teach them some skills in cross-cultural communication, and meet their needs for service hours?  Is it also our mission to reduce injustice in our local community?  To provide volunteer labor to struggling non-profits, as well as large public institutions?  To conduct useful research that might serve the city and address some of its problems while acknowledging its strengths and many resources?  Is it also our mission to provide pedagogical challenges and support to creative and thoughtful faculty members at our college?  And what about the other local colleges, and the many nationally, who look to our office for leadership and advice?  Is it our mission to serve these colleagues as well?  I say yes, to all of the above, and many others.

Maybe there is a way to narrow all of these dimensions into one mission statement.  Or maybe we need a vision statement, a set of values, and a mission statement for each of our identified strands, or dimensions.  Regardless, I think some strategic planning is in order...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Of the Table

Eating food is, I think, a deeply personal and vulnerable act. If there was ever a place where our oddities, quarks, twitches, and bad habits were expressed, the dinner table would be it. It is interesting then that so much of our shared community with others happens around the meal table. "Let us break bread together" is that cry to share our personal and vulnerable space with another person. So what do our tables look like? How large or small are they? How many seats do we have at them, and who is allowed a seat?

Service-learning, I think, is especially concerned with the nature of the table. Service-learning resists a model of one way service, but rather advocates for a reciprocity in which there is a dynamic exchange. As such, service-learning is about creating a space for dialog and mutuality. Service-learning practice, at its best, is in the business of crafting strong tables where bread can be eaten with others, and authentic community imbibed. It then remains the perpetual task of service-learning practice to ensure that there are enough chairs at any given table, and that more and more people are afforded a place at the tables that populate our lives. For this task we must be committed to constantly questioning our assumptions and constrained perspective. It is this process of questioning assumptions and beliefs that we then forge the materials to build new chairs for more people to sit at the table.