Ethical Engagement, Academic Research, AND ACADEMICS TAKING ACTION? on NPR?

September 17, 2019

Eric Hartman 

I hope you got the chance to read Dr. Lawrence Loh’s recent piece with NPR’s Goats and Soda program. Dr. Loh has been an active member of the community working to reform international collaborations so that they yield real learning and real outcomes where intended. And so that they STOP ABUSING HOST COMMUNITY MEMBERS AND PATIENTS.

The challenge Loh points out in “Volunteering Abroad is Popular and Problematic: Let’s Fix It'” is the challenge we all work with. When it comes to any social issue, knowing is only half the battle, and probably less than that. This seems particularly true with respect to volunteering with people in vulnerable positions, such as children and medical patients. Administrators, faculty, and staff leading the charge for ethical engagement must be community organizers – on campus. It is our responsibility to bring colleagues along with us toward shared understanding of the severe ethical risks that are omnipresent with learning and service efforts in contexts of extraordinary inequity. And we must develop, refine, and offer better program models.

If you are a faculty member or if you staff an office doing excellent ethical work… But your campus has a charismatic adjunct professor teaching Biology 101, and that person tells 200 students they should volunteer to provide medical help abroad to get prepared for medical school, then all of your good work flies out the window. Don’t let that happen. Learn from leaders organizing campus efforts so that students are introduced to critical understandings of global health, look squarely at the data on “medical missions,” grapple with the white savior complex and its many permutations, and receive counseling about ethical global health learning and community engagement opportunities.

Loh’s article dropped as we put together a post on the forthcoming Global Health Plenary at the 6th Global Service-Learning Summit, which focuses on this precise organizing challenge. Faculty and administrators who have made headway with campus-wide organizing strategies will share insights, and we’ll all continue to work together to build change networks that address these entrenched challenges. Click here to register and join us at Clemson Nov 3 – 5.


Eric Hartman is lead author of Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad, Executive Director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, and co-founder of The Globalsl Network, a coalition advancing community-campus partnerships for just, inclusive, and sustainable communities.   


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