Theory into practice, what an inspiring idea, but it begs the question: how do we do it? The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at K is a brilliant idea because in practice it’s a complete load of fluff and I am a student who was formerly involved with the CCE.
The CCE has programs for students to volunteer in the community while getting paid as a student worker. Students attend three reflections each quarter, led by their Civic Engagement Scholar (CES), and each CES has to report to ladies who work in the CCE office.
Now, I say ladies because in my experience with the CCE, I have never encountered diverse or representative leadership, despite the fact a couple of positions have been vacated and later re-filled.
The problem is that the department is absolutely unwilling to re-evaluate itself and make changes to incorporate new perspectives. I’m speaking directly to the hired K college adult leadership who are leading the CCE.
When you walk into the CCE, you will be greeted by one of the 3 to 4 white women, or the female of color they happened to hire that year, but most likely you will not come into contact with this person.
The programs are not subject to debate. If you have a problem with the way they’re “servicing” the community, you’ll have to bite your tongue. You may have a lengthy meeting but a white woman will tell you why what you’re thinking is impossible.
Most of them are in their 50’s, which makes us wonder, are they really in touch with the issues we’re trying to solve in our communities today? Possibly, but they’ve never experienced half the things their service focuses on: poverty, racism, sexism, discrimination in multiple forms, income inequality, the achievement gap, hunger, gang wars, prison sentences, and/or the inability to read or write.
The programs essentially get caught up in the logistics, but forget the people.
We are coming into people’s communities and telling them, “I as a college student who has read a book on poverty and achievement gap am now going to tell you about how you should act in life to make a difference.”
We enter and exit a world of immense sadness, struggle, and difficulty, and we call it “service-learning” with most students not committing 4 years to the community.
What we’re learning is how to be a bougie class of superiors!
Students and leadership discuss what they learned from the time they “experienced poverty.” It really is sickening. It simply reflects the whole culture of our school.
My recommendations to the CCE are as follows:
- Hire representative staff into paid, departmental leadership positions so the space can be understanding to multiple trajectories of life.
- Hire people of color as well as members of the Kalamazoo community.
- Include ways that students can talk to each other about bold, new, and innovative ideas. Actually make it a priority to make the innovative ideas reality.
- CCE needs to break up cliques. It is unprofessional and detrimental to the work we do. Gossip has become enough to discredit even the most committed volunteers.
Until the CCE can make these changes, it will continue to purport an image of doing something. We will see that is only the theory and no practice.