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Service-learning and social justice: Making connections, making commitments
Much of the service-learning literature in higher education assumes that community service linked to classroom learning is inherently connected to concerns of social justice. While some service-learning practice aims to alleviate oppressive or unfair circumstances and promote "more just relationships," there is little research that examines the effectiveness of service-learning in developing that commitment. ^ The purpose of this qualitative research is to understand how students' experiences in service-learning contribute to their understanding of and commitment to social justice. The program investigated is a four semester critical service-learning experience, named the Citizen Scholars Program, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Written assignments and interview transcripts from 11 women who participated in the program comprise the data for this dissertation research. This secondary data set was analyzed using grounded theory methodology to explore connections between students' participation in service-learning and their understandings of and commitments to social justice. ^ The findings from this research suggest that participants in this study did develop more complex conceptions of social justice. Through the critical service-learning experience provided by the Citizen Scholars Program, students report being able to: develop authentic relationships with community members, question the distribution of power in society, and deepen their commitments to social justice. The study identified six properties of social justice sensemaking that appear to influence students' understanding of and commitment to social justice. Reflection on the self and experience, introduction to new information, contradictory experiences, relationships with peers and community members, and the idea of plausibility were all shown to spur students' social justice meaning construction. The findings of this study were used to develop a conceptual framework that charts how the critical service-learning experience of the Citizen Scholars Program facilitates social justice sensemaking. This framework can guide the work of scholars and practitioners who aim or hope to encourage social justice commitments in students. ^ Students left Citizen Scholars with confidence in their views of social justice and a willingness to take action in alignment with those views. This research demonstrates that critical service-learning can foster a greater sense of agency to act in support of social justice. ^
Education, Curriculum and Instruction|Education, Higher
Tania D Mitchell,
"Service-learning and social justice: Making connections, making commitments"
(January 1, 2005).
Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst.