Civic Engagement, Social Responsibility: Charleston, Baltimore, Ferguson – What should your campus do?

June 24, 2015

We don’t want soft thinking. We don’t want paternalistic forms of service. We want deep, rigorous, historically grounded reflection coupled with community-driven learning, cooperative development, and movement toward solidarity. Hartman & Kiely’s (2014) definition of global service-learning emphasizes the importance of understanding structures and power relations:

Global service learning is a community-driven service experience that employs structured, critically reflective practice to better understand common human dignity; self; culture; positionality; socio-economic, political, and environmental issues; power relations; and social responsibility, all in global contexts (p. 60).

An important component of structural thinking is historical thinking. When, through community-driven articulations of applied service and development, students are often focused on action alone, historical thinking plays a vital role in resurfacing contingency and indeterminacy (McKee, 2014). Without historical context, service-learners run the risk of engaging challenges as if they are ahistorical, which denudes them of power in addition to their implication in past and present policy frameworks (Kiely, 2002, 2004). Engaging the historical context of any specific place, as well as the history of dominant government interactions with that place (Mellom & Herrera, 2014), can simultaneously serve to deepen students’ humility in relation to grand solutions and illustrate the value of discerning judgment and consequential action as peoples slowly work through change (hopefully positive) over time (McKee, 2014).

To support deep understanding of place in domestic, often cross-cultural, community engagement, we share the following, excellent syllabi resources:

In the words of South Carolina’s Poet Laureate, “we should speak… we should think… we must explain it.” Our thinking must seek out perspectives that challenge dominant narratives. White folks, especially, must do all we can to engage with humility, listen, read, and work to understand the continuous realities of institutionalized racism in the United States of America. When there is enough listening, enough communicating, then we can begin to work together to re-imagine a country more in line with its core aspirations. We all have roles to play in the work of listening, seeking out connections across perceived difference, and advancing personal and political changes to de-institutionalize racism.

Check out Campus Compact’s recommendations on what universities should do, and be sure to visit their list of resources that support positive campus-community partnerships for a more just, democratic society.


Photo credit above: Todd Marcus. Originally contributed to globalsl as part of the guest post,

Baltimore: Reframing the Narrative


Hartman, E., and Kiely, R. (2014). Pushing boundaries: Introduction to the global service-learning special section. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 21(1): 55 – 63.

Kiely, R. (2002). Toward an expanded conceptualization of transformational learning: A case study of international service-learning in Nicaragua. Cornell University Dissertation Abstracts International, 63 (09A), 3083.

Kiely, R. (2004). A chameleon with a complex: Searching for transformation in international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 10(2), 5-20.

McKee, G.A. (2014). A confident humility: MPP students and the uses of history. The Journal of Public Affairs Education, 20(1), 63 – 72.

Mellom, P. & Herrera, S. (2014). Power relations, North and South: Negotiating meaningful “service” in the con- text of imperial history. In P. Green & M. Johnson (Eds.), Crossing Boundaries: Tension and Transformation in International Service-Learning (pp. 12-30). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Editor’s Note: As frequently mentioned here, global learning does not require crossing a national border. Indeed, engaging thoughtfully across cultures is sometimes even more challenging at home, where biases and assumptions are entrenched over lifetimes and generations. The 2014-15 academic year began with Ferguson and ended with Baltimore; now we have Charleston. At globalsl, we find it more important than ever to include a focus on domestic cross-cultural cooperation, learning, and community-driven development.

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