Social Justice and Service-Learning: More to it Than You Might Have Expected

November 7, 2016
Dr. Jeffrey Reeder

After reading about the event through the Center for Community Engagement's e-mail newsletter, I attended the 2016 Social Justice Institute at Saint Mary's College of California, the topic of which was "Counter-Stories of Service-Learning and Community Engagement" featuring keynote speaker Dr. Tania Mitchell of the University of Minnesota. Attending from SSU was a small delegation comprised of Merith Weisman and myself.

The premise of the institute was that it was to be an "interactive workshop and deep conversation exploring the tensions between critical service-learning and traditional service learning." Specific topics that were addressed included how different kinds of students experience service-learning and community engagement, how service can reinforce and challenge systems of power and privilege, and what a more justice-oriented community engagement looks like.

The motivation for me to attend was that I have been interested in incorporating social justice themes into my teaching, into several of my upper-division Spanish courses in particular, and I was hoping that the institute would inspire me to think creatively of ways that I could do that, in particular with my service-learning Spanish translation course. With those as my goals, I was not disappointed. It impacted my teaching by allowing me to learn that social justice themes and approaches to service-learning can probably be successfully integrated into almost any type of instructional format.

The institute consisted of a very engaging and thought-provoking address from Dr. Mitchell, followed by participants breaking up into smaller working groups at round tables in the meeting room to address specific topics. Since the participants in each group represented a wide variety of constituencies from many different institutions, the wealth of experience and knowledge that was shared, combined with Dr. Mitchell's stimulating plenary, made the trip worthwhile and I look forward to attending future institutes such as this one.