Community service bolsters academics

The Jan. 6 editorial, “Forced service would ill serve the University,” stated that requiring community service as a graduation requirement would be a mistake. We would agree with this statement if community service were required without any purpose other than to make students take an empty class to make a land-grant university feel good about itself. But that is not the case.
In designing a liberal arts curriculum, colleges and universities specify a range of courses such as literature, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, history, the natural sciences and the arts which collectively provide a broad view of society and promote the development of identity, competence and autonomy.
Liberal education has, from its inception, gone beyond academic inquiry and professional training to prepare students for responsible citizenship. Liberal education also gives students insight into themselves, their culture and their environment. Ultimately, a strong liberal arts education helps students achieve success in leadership, self-understanding and a strong sense of civic responsibility.
To state that community service is an extracurricular activity is simply not true. In fact, out-of-the-classroom activities, or co-curricular activities, are just as critical to one’s education as are classroom activities. Student development, which has traditionally been charged with addressing personal and affective development issues and extracurricular activities, also strives to challenge students intellectually. By integrating cognitive and affective development, liberal arts education provides a means of fostering responsible action in the real world. Focusing only on traditional, required courses, unconnected to the larger world picture, will not ultimately serve students or the world they share.
Therefore, the University must provide opportunities that link classroom learning to experiential learning, including community service. Without these opportunities, students like the ones in a study by the Association of American Colleges will continue to find it difficult to link their education with their community at-large.
Requiring students to participate in activities which link the learning both inside and outside the classroom is not a well-meant innovation but a responsibility the University has in educating its students.
Community service may be based on the idea that equity and social justice is being served, but without any connection to strong educational curriculum, many students will continue to serve in soup kitchens but won’t ever question why we have soup kitchens. Education is critical to establishing equal opportunity and equity in our society.
Moreover, institutions of higher education have the responsibility to promote the common good and to provide students with a clear statement of what the institution values. This will help students maintain a level of expectation that directly affects their (collective and individual) development, attitudes and responses.
Education must serve as a vehicle for change by addressing diversity issues and by providing students with the knowledge they need to access options. We need to help students to question the traditional viewpoints and challenge them to find other alternatives.
A genuinely comprehensive education is one that provides students with the opportunity to understand human capacities; it provides students with problem-solving skills and a sense of their relationship with, and interdependence on, others. We must provide students with an understanding of multicultural perspectives that are part of a globally conscious society. If students were involved in this type of education, one would hope that they would be more able to come to their own conclusions about what it means to be socially responsible citizens.
As we indicated initially, community service is not a purposeless requirement. Its intent is to allow people to become a part of their community. It allows people to work with other citizens in the community by joining their skills in an effort to work for the common good.
Community service is not about doing something for someone else. It is about doing something with someone and being a part of building a stronger social structure. And the only way this can happen is by learning about one’s environs through community service.
By requiring students to participate in community service, the University is not only ensuring the success of its students during their stay at the University, but throughout their lives.
McKinley Boston is the Vice President for Student Development & Athletics, and Esther Per lez is Special Assistant for Vice President Boston.