Where’s the Service in Service-Learning?

toxic charity book cover

A popular book in the service-learning literature asks the important question, Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning? —and it has guided many educators to community engagement practices that maximize student learning.

At a recent event at Hamline University, Robert Lupton, the author of Toxic Charity:  How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, essentially asked people to think critically about the other side of that question.  Where’s the service in service-learning and other efforts by volunteers or nonprofits?  Lupton puts forth a strong argument that “most mission trips and service projects:

  • weaken those being served,
  • foster dishonest relationships, and
  • erode participants’ work ethic, and deepen dependency.”

His book is by no means simply intended to chastise and blame. It contains a message of hope that the “compassion industry” can be changed and that virtuous people can do good. As a place to begin, he offers an Oath for Compassionate Service.

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations (crisis situation=YES, chronic situation=NO).
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.

Lupton’s book is filled with examples from his own four decades working on inner-city poverty. For example, he talks about a Christmas charity tradition where people would ‘adopt ‘ a poor family and purchase gifts for the children based on knowing a child’s gender and age, and then deliver those gifts to the family’s home. Mothers would politely bear the brunt of the humiliation and fathers who felt emasculated (Lupton’s word), would slip out the back door, as the evidence of their inadequacy was left behind by the suburban folks doing them a service. Meanwhile, as Lupton puts it, “children get the message that the ‘good stuff’ comes from rich people out there and it is free.”

The non-toxic solution to this annual program was to re-direct the giving to help set up a seasonal Christmas store where financial donations would go toward reducing the cost of new merchandise, and where parents could work and earn the money to buy presents that they themselves picked out. Meanwhile, some residents are learning useful job skills in the store.

This would be a great reading for anyone interested in an honest conversation about going beyond good intentions.  How have you tried to develop service-learning courses and community partnerships that are genuinely transformative?  That advance both students’ learning and community members’ well-being?

John Hamerlinck

Knowing Your Capabilities, Making a Declaration, and Being Believable

Tony LookingElk spoke at Minnesota Campus Compact’s Assets and Wellness event on March 8th. Below are excerpts from his powerful remarks.

There are three things I think are essential in doing asset-based work, especially when working with marginalized communities:  capabilities, making a declaration, and being believable.

What are our institutions capable of?  It’s amazingly important to know your capabilities when you engage communities.  People are going to wonder about that if they don’t have a relationship with you.  As an organization, the Bremer Foundation can’t have shy people.  You get 90 minutes to get to know an organization, who they serve, what they’re trying to achieve, and at the end of the day what is their impact. You have to have a conversation that gets at all of those points, so when we hire staff, we look at people’s ability to build relationships quickly, have those conversations, and communicate that information to the trustees.

A declaration is a formal explicit statement, not a big thing but an important thing.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech and basically said before the decade is out we will land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth.  If you can imagine 1961, the audacity of that statement, it was an amazing statement, and literally when people heard it at the time, you couldn’t help but look upward and wonder if it was possible.  Who’s heard of Wernher von Braun?  He was a rocket scientist and six weeks before the pres gave that speech, Russia sman on the moonuccessfully had the first man orbit around planet earth.  Wernher von Braun was supposed to fig out what we as a country could do, so he wrote the White House a month before the speech and said we have the resources to beat Russia, to lead the world in space travel.  That gave the president the ability to make such a bold statement.  Who’s ever heard of Ralph Abernathy?  In 1963 Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech, which is oddly enough as visionary if he gave it today as it was in 1963.  Again he was transporting people to a place they couldn’t imagine themselves.  Why would he stir up so much hope, with the realities of what life was like in 1963?  Part of it was Ralph Abernathy, a minister and a leader in the civil rights movement.  I would characterize him as having the backroom skills, how to organize, plan, teach people to do the work of the movement, and King knew that and it gave him the confidence to set a very high bar for himself and our country.  So why would an ordinary citizen make a big statement that is visionary and make it public so everyone can hear it?

I’d say I got four proposals in the last year that said we’re going to end poverty.  It’s one thing to set a high bar, and another to know you can do it.  Especially with marginalized communities, it’s important to know your declaration and your capabilities.  Which brings us to believability.  It happens in two ways, the stories you tell and the life you lead.  I’m a fan of stories.  When you think of who you are, what you’ve learned from your family and community, give me a value or a principle you live by, share with us a story that demonstrates that value or principle.  Stories tend, especially when you engage marginalized communities, tend to be the way they communicate, so part of the ability to engage with stories is also the ability to hear them.

About a month ago I had to take my mom to the hospital, and I answered questions and listened, they took her vitals, asked her what she was experiencing, and looked at her medical history, which together enabled them to make what was essentially a hypothesis about her condition.  How do you diagnose a problem?  When you think about what you do, what is the information you took in, whether you did or someone before you, what is the assumption about information taken it to inform your program?  Are you able to take in diverse information and to make good decisions with diverse information?  The diagnosis is amazingly important and being clear about the information you’re taking in relates to your believability, shapes your declaration, and relates to your understanding of your readiness.

When you pursue making a difference, you’re actually asking for behavior to change, and part of it is being real clear about what behavior has to change to get to that outcome.  The road goes two ways—to people in communities and your own institutional behavior.  Being able to articulate that and understand it feeds into the idea that the conditions are ripe for these behaviors to change.  Lay out the reality of what we need to be willing to do to make that happen.

Tony LookingElk is son to Helen and Phillip LookingElk and is an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewas and his father is Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Tony’s professional experience include government (county and federal level), non-profit and community based organizations addressing disparities in wealth, health and well-being. His philanthropic experience includes working with the Northwest Area Foundation where he served as a Community Liaison and currently with the Otto Bremer Foundation serving as a Program Officer. While Tony has a variety of formal education experiences, he credits his informal education through elders, community, family and culture that have provided him the skills, abilities and knowledge to serve communities well.

St. Cloud State Partners with the Community to Effectively Reduce High Risk Drinking

By Jennifer Sell Matzke

Thanks to a series of successful collaborative efforts to alter the culture when it comes to alcohol and drug use on the campus of St. Cloud State University and the surrounding community, dramatic, positive and measurable changes are occurring.

In 2005, results from a college student health assessment showed that 58% of St. Cloud State students reported engaging in high risk drinking (defined as 5 or more alcohol beverages in a single sitting) within the last two weeks — a rate significantly above the national average reported by college students across the country.  The negative consequences associated with this behavior were taking a toll not only on students but also on the campus and surrounding community.

In order to address this problem, SCSU implemented an environmental management approach to addressing high risk drinking and the related harmful consequences.  Now, just seven years later, the high risk drinking rate for SCSU has fallen to 34.1%, a rate on par with the national average.  This is a feat that is now bringing national attention to SCSU and the city of St. Cloud, primarily because of the partnerships that have evolved and developed to make this change possible.

results table

This change in culture can be attributed in large part to the numerous collaborative efforts put forth between members of St. Cloud State University, the Neighborhood University Community Coalition, the St. Cloud Police Department and St. Cloud city administrators.  In July 2010 the Social Host, Provisional Licensing for Liquor Establishments, and Disruptive Intoxication Ordinances were proposed as a collaborative effort by the various groups mentioned above to address concerns within the community.  These ordinances were ultimately adopted in the city of St. Cloud and the impact has been extremely positive.  For example, as a result of the Social Host Ordinance, the city has seen a drastic reduction in the number of loud parties and university neighbors report a significantly improved quality of life as a result.

In August of 2010, shortly after the new ordinances were passed, the city and university partnered together to introduce and implement the IMPACT Diversion Program. This joint program is designed to offer individuals who have been charged with an underage alcohol violation the opportunity to receive alcohol education and prevention services. The Diversion program has resulted in a reduction in underage consumption recidivism from 12% to 6.9%, in nearly 1900 cases in the past two years as well as a significant decrease in the number of alcohol related emergency room admissions.  Since Diversion is also an option for non-students, underage individuals have returned to St. Cloud to complete Diversion from as far away as Illinois, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Beginning in fall 2012, SCSU has also partnered with St. Cloud Technical and Community College to provide IMPACT programming on their campus. The two colleges now share a graduate assistant who works to provide prevention programming to both campuses.  These combined efforts have drastically changed the environment in the city of St. Cloud and the culture around drinking on campus at both SCSU and SCTCC.

Through these efforts, the city of St. Cloud and area colleges have witnessed firsthand the impact of collaboration in affecting change, the importance of partnerships and data collection and the power of education to reduce alcohol use.  These efforts have been the catalyst for various other partnerships to address alcohol issues in the community. For example, the St. Cloud Community Alliance (SCCA) evolved out of these efforts and brings together city leaders, campus leaders, residents, students and businesses from throughout the city of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities.  The SCCA is a coalition with a simple mission:  to make St. Cloud a better place for everyone; with a primary focus to reduce high-risk drinking and the negative impacts on our community.

The collaborative relationships that were built and exist between these entities continue to thrive and provide numerous opportunities for partners to work together for the sake of creating an improved quality of life for all residents, students, visitors, faculty and staff within the city of St. Cloud.

Jennifer Sell Matzke is Interim Assistant Dean of Students for Chemical Health and Outreach Programming at St. Cloud State University.

Congratulations to Minnesota Campuses Named to President’s Honor Roll

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, launched in President's Honor Roll2006, annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve. The 2013 Honor Roll recipients will be announced at the American Council on Education’s 95th Annual Meeting, Leading Change on Monday March 4, 2013.

We are delighted to announce that 18 Minnesota Campus Compact member campuses are recognized in the The 2013 Honor Roll. Congratulations to the following campuses:

Honor Roll with Distinction:

  • Augsburg College
  • Metropolitan State University
  • Winona State University

Honor Roll Members:

  • Carleton College
  • Central Lakes College
  • Century College
  • College of St. Benedict
  • Gustavus Adolphus College
  • Hamline University
  • Macalester College
  • Minnesota State University Mankato
  • Normandale Community College
  • St. Catherine University
  • St. Cloud State University
  • St. John’s University
  • St. Olaf College
  • University of Minnesota Crookston
  • University of Minnesota Duluth

Student Profile: Will Lutterman, St. Olaf College

Will Lutterman is a sophomore studying Economics, Environmental Studies and Statistics at St Olaf College.  In his first year at St Olaf, Will wanted to pursue his passion for public policy through opportunities that would give him practical experience.  He explains, “I see my college education going hand in hand with community development work.  They are equally valuable to me.”  In exploring his options, he was connected to a city councilwoman who opened the door for him to get involved in many projects throughout the community.  Among the many projects Will was heavily involved in were Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), Northfield Downtown Development CorporWill Luttermanation (NDDC), Northfield Marriage Amendment Opposition, Northfield Anaerobic Digester, and an independent study on job creation in Northfield.  Will says, “[Public policy] is exactly what I want to do when I graduate. I’m using this to build a repertoire of passion, strengths, skills, and experience in order to tackle the larger world head on.”

Through all of his community involvement Will has taken on an incredible amount of leadership roles and pursued many impressive opportunities for civic engagement.  For example, through PACE Will was able to research and present a new style of energy retrofitting program.  He even wrote the Northfield’s documentation and designed the entire program.  Through NDDC Will built a database of local businesses, crunched data on the town’s industry profile and is now working to provide and analysis of the local economy to promote economic development.  He provided the City Council with information about the proposed Marriage Amendment and testified in opposition, which brought the council to approve a resolution to publicly oppose the amendment.  This fall, Will began to do research for an initial feasibility study of a proposed anaerobic digester near Northfield.  Currently, he is preparing for a J-Term independent study for which he plans to do a comprehensive job creation analysis of Northfield based on his previous work through NDDC.  This will ultimately serve an academic purpose as well as advise the city in regards to economic development.

Will has found that after only one year at St Olaf his civic engagement service has connected him with the community on a very intimate level.  He says, “I grew up in the Twin Cities, but Northfield is my real home. After living here only a year, I find joy coming back and I want to make a real and serious commitment to a place where I see people coming together and living their lives in the best ways possible.”