NYMAPS Quarterly Workshop: Ethical Perspectives in Service-Learning
November 10, 2011
University Settlement (Houston Street Center)
This two-hour workshop provided a space for collaborative exploration on ethics, in the realm of service-learning—an issue facing many service-learning faculty, administrators, community partners and students who are often involved in projects with deeply embedded, complex ethical problems.
On this foggy morning, 46 participants representing over 16 organizations conducted an analysis of several case studies. Scenarios were drawn from the book Service-learning Code of Ethics and covered hypothetical courses involving work with county jails, soup kitchens, environmental studies, election campaigns, migrant workers and an AIDS hospice (Chapdelaine, Ruiz, Warchal & Wells, 2005). Several groups worked together to identify what dilemmas existed, determine who “owned” the dilemma, and collectively create potential solutions to the presented problems.
Chapdelaine, A., Ruiz, A., Warchal, J., & Wells, C. (2005). Service-learning code of ethics. (pp. 183-195). Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.
Common themes addressed included:
- Recognizing and including the community partner voice in course planning and implementation.
- Understanding and managing the power differential & dynamics between faculty members and students, as well as between faculty members and community partners, (esp. around sensitive issue-based projects.)
- Create additional opportunities to promote students’ critical thinking around the understanding of systemic causes that lead to servicing the “immediate” needs.
- The need for increased empathy on the part of students and faculty.
- Clarity of course and project objectives leads to clarity of both partners’ motives.
- Connect students’ cognitive experiences to their affective experiences in the course.
- Do no harm to the community.
Questions for further exploration include:
- How thoroughly are we describing s-l courses on the registrar’s bulletin? How do we engage and solicit buy-in from students who had no prior knowledge of the nature of the course? Is discomfort sometimes a good thing for students?
- How do we appropriately engage students/create buy-in around unfamiliar or uncomfortable issue-based projects?
- In what ways can we address paternalistic attitudes on the part of students?
- How do we educate or prepare students from privileged backgrounds to appropriately engage with all community citizens without doing harm?
- What are some ways community partners can protect themselves from harm? What can they do mid-way through the semester?
- How do we appropriately handle the media/Public Relations goals of the campus with community partner privacy needs? What messages are we sending to the students, community citizens and organizational staff when we videotape or take pictures? How do we manage that?
- What is the role of the community based organization (CBO) in shaping the project and activities, in facilitating reflection, and in helping to breakdown assumptions/stereotypes? Faculty?
- To what extent do we try to push students past their own core beliefs? Should students who hold discriminating views throughout the course be encouraged to drop the class?
Preliminary Solutions Offered:
- Establish clear academic learning objectives.
- Create a memorandum of understanding around mutual roles and expectations.
- Develop a clear strategic media plan with the partnering organization, prior to the beginning of the course.
- Increase reflection that occurs in the community partner setting, where appropriate.
The breakout discussions were followed by a dynamic panel of speakers including Dr. John Krinsky of City College, Sam Miller of Picture the Homeless and Haldon Blecher, a CCNY student. A detailed discussion took place around the complete process of envisioning, creating and implementing a service-learning course built on the foundation of several years of his research and deep relationships with community organizers on the issue of community-based land ownership and community land trusts (CLT). Dr. Krinsky and his panelists offered an entertaining, candid history of their work together and vividly described how their mutual trust has aided them in becoming better partners to each other as they tackled challenges, achieved successes and continue to build on plans for long-term collaboration.
Dr. Cass Freedland of Wagner College and Jessica Cook of St. John’s University facilitated the panel and breakout sessions as members of the NYMAPS Curriculum Committee.