Campus Spotlight: Moving from Service-Learning to Critically-Engaged Civic Learning at Salem State
By: Cindy Vincent, Cynthia Lynch and Sara Moore, Salem State University
If you were to ask most anyone at Salem State University, they would agree that our community highly values civic engagement, which is embedded in the very fabric and infrastructure of what it means to be a Salem State Viking. In support of this deep commitment, the university established the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) in 2015.
The Center has provided structure and support to well-established initiatives on campus and has developed some of its own signature programming, like First Year Day of Service and Student Advocacy Day. In addition to programming, the CCE has also focused on strengthening our long-standing legacy of service-learning by working with community partners to address scholarly criticisms and account for 21st-century changes to this pedagogical approach.
When we began to examine our university’s approach to service-learning, we realized that our work is starkly different from what is often proposed in the traditional framework. Specifically, our work is centered on six core principles: social justice, power dynamics, community, civic learning objectives, reflexivity, and sustainability. Moreover, we fundamentally disagreed with the term “service,” a word that evokes unequal power dynamics and privileges certain groups over others.
To more fully address these concerns, in 2017 we created a framework that marks a paradigmatic shift away from traditional service-learning and toward the community-engaged work being done with and through the university. We call this critically-engaged civic learning (CECL).
Social justice as a guiding principle argues that pedagogical practitioners need to create experiential learning opportunities that encourage students to critically engage with the world around them to address some of the most pressing social justice and civic issues of our time. Inherent within this principle is a focus on understanding the root causes of injustice, which may or may not be tied to a specific social issue of a discipline; challenging injustice; and creating social change, both incrementally and holistically.
Power dynamics are an important aspect of university-community relationships and should follow a redistribution model that confronts assumptions and stereotypes and incorporates multiple angles and perspectives, including, but not limited to students, faculty, community partners, and community constituents. Power dynamics for all stakeholders should be identified and leveraged for the creation of authentic relationships. Inherent within this principle is a focus on equity, mutual respect, mutually beneficial reciprocity, shared authority and a common language to draw from in working together to chip away at social issues that are larger than any one entity alone.
The community principle posits that community-engaged work should stem from community members and focus on the larger social justice issues within and across communities. Community-based work brings universities and community leaders and stakeholders together to identify how they can inclusively collaborate to confront social issues and create social change. Inherent within this principle is a focus on co-creating and leveraging multiple forms of knowledge, using an assets-based approach, and ensuring a multi-directional flow of knowledge and action planning.
Civic Learning Objectives[iv]
When faculty incorporate civic learning objectives into their course design, they ensure that students’ experiential learning meets academic learning outcomes and leads to the development of civic knowledge, skills, competencies, and/or values. This principle stems from the work we engaged in for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Civic Learning and Engagement Study Group and focuses on five areas of civic learning and engagement: civic and democratic knowledge, intellectual skills, applied competencies, social and political values, and co-designed actions that engage all stakeholders.
Reflexivity requires that all stakeholders (students, faculty, community partners and community constituents) critically examine their positionality in their work. In other words, they must consider how they shape and are shaped by their social contexts. Individuals must recognize privilege and the partiality of their own knowledge, examine the context of knowledge creation, and understand how their own knowledge fits with that of other stakeholders in order to co-construct knowledge and implement meaningful change. To be effective, reflexivity should be continuous and iterative throughout the experience.
Lastly, critically-engaged civic learning opportunities need to be sustainable. We must stop thinking of this work as one-time projects and start seeing them as connected to a larger mosaic of necessary actions aimed toward a larger social justice goal. Long-term relationships grow from authentic relationships with communities and community partners and take time to build trust, rapport and interdependence. These relationships contribute to a larger civic ecology that grows beyond any one class, faculty member, or institution and works to address the holistic complexities of social justice issues.
Identified outcomes of this framework have been seen in six overarching areas: Social change (incremental and holistic), civic engagement (civic learning and agency), workforce development and preparation, community building (knowledge-making and understanding), individual success (student and community member), and personal growth (self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-empowerment). For more information on this framework please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Tania Mitchell, “Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 14, no. 2 (2008):50–65; Randy Stoecker, Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2016).
[ii] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th edition (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1970); bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994).
[iii] John Saltmarsh and Matthew Hartley, eds., “To Serve a Larger Purpose”: Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011); Randy Stoecker, Elizabeth A. Tryon, and Amy Hilgendorf, The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2009).
[iv] John D. Reiff, “What If a State Required Civic Learning for All Its Undergraduates?,” Higher Learning Research Communications 6, no. 2 (2016): 57; Study Group on Civic Learning and Engagement, “Preparing Citizens Report on Civic Learning and Engagement” (Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, 2014).
[v] Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14 (October 1, 1988): 575–99; Margaret Archer, “Reflexivity,” Sociopedia.isa, 2010, 1–13.
[vi] Amy Martin, Kristy Seblonka, and Elizabeth Tryon, “The Challenge of Short-Term Service-Learning,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 14, no. 2 (2008): 16–26; Magda Fourie, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: Service Learning for Sustainable Community Development,”South African Journal of Higher Education 17, no. 1 (2003): 31–38.