Ethical Global Engagement: What do we avoid, what do we do, and how do we evaluate it?

January 25, 2019

Thursday I had the opportunity to co-present a brief session, “Models and Methods of Ethical Engagement,” at the Association of American Colleges and Universities Annual Meeting. Many thanks to Jennifer Magee, Senior Associate Director, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Swarthmore College, for inviting me to co-present with her and her colleague, Katie Price, who is Assistant Director at the Lang Center. I ended up presenting primarily on one slice of our work at Haverford – how we prepare students for ethical engagement during summer internships. I share related resources – and some initial thinking about what we miss or ignore – below. We also covered some new ground, which I’m going to explore in another post tomorrow, followed by the many questions we continue to explore about next steps for people taking this work seriously.

Ethical Global Engagement? What do we avoid, what do we do, and how do we evaluate it?

  1. Straight avoidance of particular forms of “service” and engagement.

Most students, faculty, and administrators want to do – this semester, next semester – right now. And people in communities and at community organizations face real and significant threats, hunger, and mistreatment – right now. Yet if anything is clear from the history of service, development, and community-campus partnerships, it’s that paternalistic assumptions of outsiders cause real harm in communities. I’ve written a brief summary of the specific reasons to never engage in orphanage volunteering and to avoid undergraduate volunteering in clinical health environments in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. But – particularly for folks coming from comparatively privileged positions – paternalistic assumptions are non-obvious and continuously rediscovered. They’re rooted in a nasty mix of good intentions, implicit biases and dominant development discourse (something that should be interrogated in preparatory courses and programs). Note: the problems of paternalism and implicit bias are equally present in proximate community engagement and farther away. Along with most of the leading associations in higher education, when we say global engagement we include domestic collaborations.

  1. Careful advising and intentional partnerships.

At the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship we support students in Fellowships for Peace and Global Citizenship, through which they work with community organizations in the United States and around the world, advancing peace, social justice, and global citizenship through a variety of pursuits. We support about 60 students in this way, every summer.

In addition to outright avoidance of particular types of misinformed service, we work to avoid paternalistic patterns in three ways. We support an extensive counseling and advising process, standing partnerships with community organizations, and preparatory training before summer experiences begin. Our students advance self-designed proposals or apply to existing partnerships the College has with community organizations around the world. If the proposal is self-designed, staff members work with students to ensure the initiative is driven by and developed in conjunction with relevant community organizations where the summer internship will take place. Our Fellowship cycle is pictured below and described in more detail here.

Logistically, counseling students through self-designed internships can be difficult and is certainly time-consuming. Staff members learn about new organizations as students develop proposals – and community organization representatives express their interest in and commitment to hosting the individual student.

Conceptually, self-designed internships express some of the core tension of our work. Students have often been repeatedly coached and advised to believe in the importance of developing their own proposals (through high school, by parents, etc.). Yet community organizations frequently know best where students are needed and what they should be doing. On the other hand, students sometimes come to us with interest in working in communities similar to the ones where they grew up, occasionally have experience with the organization in question, and are often thoughtful and humble advocates for new initiatives that may make a meaningful difference if advanced through careful collaboration.

For instance, we had not previously worked with Paper Monuments, an organization that combines public education and collaborative design to expand the collective understanding of the history of New Orleans. But after learning about the organization through a course with Philadelphia artist-activist-community-builder-historian-professor Paul Farber, two students developed self designed proposals and worked with the organization in New Orleans this past summer.

Rather than developing a self-designed proposal, many of our students work through existing partnerships. From supporting community arts organizations in Philadelphia to advancing sustainable development in Trinidad and Tobago, partnerships represent years of work between our staff and community organizations, collaborating to understand the ways in which Haverford students can productively support the mission of established organizations around the world. Consistent with the framework and principles in Fair Trade Learning, we work to ensure the partnerships are community-driven in respect to how students will spend time, feature appropriate and ethical activity, and offer fair remuneration for all parties.

  1. Further preparing accepted students for ethical engagement.

Once students are accepted for internships, we work with them to further open a set of questions they will continue to investigate through the summer and during the fall courses they take as part of our fellowship cycle. These questions are considered through Sunday afternoon retreats and evening speakers during March and April. They include:

  • Who am I as a cultural being, and how does my identity intersect with power, privilege, inclusion, exclusion, and safety where I will be working? I should note that among the population of students accepted for internships in recent years, approximately half are nonwhite. Our activities don’t presume our students’ identities, but root themselves in processes of self-exploration and identification, coupled with consideration of the ways in which identity expression may shift in different contexts.
  • How will I be an appropriate, culturally humble guest and contributor in the community and organization where I’ll work this summer?
  • How can I work through ethical and professional challenges I may face this summer? Who are my resources where I will be, at the College, and online? How will I proactively practice a healthy approach to self-care?
  • How can I ethically represent my experiences and stories others may share with me this summer – in story sharing, social media, photography, writing,? (This includes what not to represent or share).
  • How does this summer experience relate to the roles I may take up now and later in life, relating to vocation, personal habits, conscious consumption, and local and global citizenships?

The questions we address during the preparatory training are similar to the questions that have been considered during that training for many years. But in line with the thinking in Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad, we’ve been doing more to clarify our learning goals and the processes for continuing to encourage them. That process begins in this orientation, then weaves through the summer and into the fall. Related, we’re also considering assessment with a renewed clarity. One thing that’s clear is that we have many, many forms of assessment embedded in our interpersonal and institutional systems (some of which we have not been fully conscious of as assessment).

How do we know these processes have their intended effects?

Assessment at a place like Haverford (student population about 1,300) takes place all the time and meaningfully, through one-on-one conversations. Students also complete Fellowship reports at the end of the summer. Staff members check-in with partners at the end of the summer and throughout the year (though we’ve noted a gap with respect to partners in new self-designed experiences). During fall courses, Fellows consider the historical and structural determinants of the issues they addressed during their internships. Faculty are assessing student learning, internship-related insights, and concerns in repeated assignments and class discussions. We’re working to be more systematic in respect to understanding how CPGC staff can learn from the assessment that occurs through student and faculty dialogue in courses. I include links to three re-entry course syllabi here:

Along with interpersonal and conversational evaluation, Fellowship reports, and coursework, we also take part in the Global Engagement Survey: a mixed-methods, multi-institutional assessment of global learning. I’ve been part of getting the GES up and rolling, so I’m a bit biased toward it. But even with all of the other forms of assessment opportunity we have here at Haverford, we seem to learn additional things through the process of looking at our students’ self-report and qualitative responses along with the averages and responses of students participating in similar experiences at other institutions.

For instance, Haverford students, even compared with students at similarly selective institutions, appear more likely to bring course and academic analysis into their reflections on their summer internships. This could be read as a success, as one of our aims is supporting cognitive and intellectual development. But learning is multi-faceted: affective, moral, spiritual, embodied, personal, and more. Put another way, our students seem particularly capable when considering social and environmental challenges in the context of broader theories, processes, and structure. But they may be less likely to think and share about themselves and their own growth and reflection. This interpretation comes from last year’s (summer 2017) findings and analysis. We’re still working on summer 2018, so we’ll see if the pattern holds.

OK, about to move away from blogging-organizational-reflection and back into the real world, so here’s a splash of cold water. The somewhat neat and tidy package I presented above does exist for students who apply and are accepted into Fellowships for Peace and Global Citizenship, but students want to be involved in engagement outside of Fellowships, of course! And there are multiple and diverse points of entry at the College – we at the CPGC are only one point of collaboration. In addition to thinking about that, we’ve also been working to:

  • Enhance the extent to which our work is community-driven and otherwise follows Fair Trade Learning principles
  • Collaborate with faculty to create more opportunities for increasingly sophisticated experiential learning
  • Provide students with scaffolded curricular pathways for global civic engagement
  • Produce outcomes that derive from community-articulated desires

We’ve made some progress, and have much more work to do. I’ll share more about that in the next post.

And finally – if you’re curious about the origins, activities, and aspirations of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, take a look at our short film here:

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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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