Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Faculty Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 1
(2006)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Leadership: Making a Difference in the World
Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve
Berea College: Learning, Labor, and Service
A Developmental and Capacity-Building Model for Community Partnerships
The Power of a Sustained Relationship between Community Partners and Colleges and Universities
Faculty Involvement
Prequel to Civic Engagement: An African American Studies Research Seminar
Service Learning and Policy Change
Facilitating Student Growth as Citizens: A Developmental Model for Community-Engaged Learning
Student Experience
An Intentional and Comprehensive Student Development Model
Bonner: More Than a Model, a Lived Experience
Relationships First
Commitment to a Cause
Institutional Leadership
Preparing to Serve
Checklist from the President’s Chair
Curricular Transformation
LifeWorks and the Commons: A Model for General Education
The Case for Studying Poverty
Research
Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal Outcomes of the Cocurricular Bonner Scholars Program
Resources
Resources for Civic Engagement
Serving, Voting, and Speaking Out: Bonner Students Reflect on Civic Engagement

Service Learning and Policy Change

By Michael Malahy Morris, research professor in public policy and community learning in the College of Education and director of the Office of Community Learning and Public Service, University of New Mexico

At the University of New Mexico (UNM), the conceptualization of student engagement in public work includes a strong policy focus. This approach—“deep service learning”—involves becoming familiar with the intricacies of a given issue, contemplating why a problem exists, and analyzing which policy options might reduce or eliminate the conditions that sustain the problem.

The policy component of service has been a growing element in Bonner programs for almost a decade now. In UNM’s program, it is a distinguishing feature. The capacity to discern policy options functions as the capstone of our developmental model, built on the stages of development—initial volunteer experience, increasing service opportunities, project leadership, and research—outlined in Ariane Hoy’s article in this issue of Diversity Digest. In order to achieve such intellectual and experiential growth, students must develop a deeper sense of the problems they are addressing through their service work. Doing so helps them understand the different policy options available to address issues at institutional, community, state, national, and international levels.

Exploring policy involves field study, reading, and coursework, as well as direct interaction with regional experts from the university, the government, and the nonprofit community. Such learning should translate to progressive experiences with community-based action research. These experiences involve students in authentic interactions both with the people affected by a given issue and with the professionals and volunteers associated with addressing these challenges.

In the summer of 2006, UNM hosted twelve Bonner scholars and leaders from seven member institutions. Students came from a variety of majors, including mass communications, international affairs, business, and women’s studies. Interdisciplinary teams of students were placed in three community settings, where they devoted from forty to sixty hours per week to service and study. One group was placed with an acclaimed youth worker and community activist who is currently developing a neighborhood center for adjudicated youth and ex-gang members. Another group was placed with our state’s most respected community sociologist, who is documenting the three-hundred year history of a low-income barrio. One student was assigned to assist a statewide youth radio network.

In each site, the Bonner participants were mentored on a complex issue (e.g., marginalized youth, community history, and youth voice) through field experience, readings, group discussions, and extended reflection. Each team or individual produced digital stories and presentations describing the project or the history and nature of the problems; two of the teams then created Web sites to present what the project was seeking to accomplish.

For example, in the Sawmill barrio—where the first major lumber mills in the Southwest were built and the timber industry influenced the natural environment, water system, local economy, schools, and housing construction—students worked with Professor Emeritus Tomás Atencio to create a community documentation center. This center will function as a historical depository of local knowledge and be a living archive recording the evolution of a neighborhood’s struggle to regain control of its own destiny. In recovering and copying documents, maps, environmental reports, health studies, and planning studies, Bonner students mapped the history of this unique place. A community Web page was created to link neighborhood members, students, and scholars to the rich history of the neighborhood. Sub-themes on broad public policy issues are currently being developed to provide additional accessible information for citizens. Through this short but intense immersion, students produced additional infrastructure that allowed a neighborhood to study its own policy options.

Deepening one’s understanding of an issue or problem entails more than simple experiential education. It requires students to move from service and reflection into actual study, community research, and exploration of policy options. As more and more campuses develop similar institutional approaches, the potential for networking, resource sharing, and cross-institutional learning expands. Facilitating such skill development and shared learning can lead to increased equity for our poorest communities and encourage a new generation of leaders committed to social justice through direct practice.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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