Though it happened several weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about Tania D. Mitchell's keynote address at the 2012 NYMAPS* Symposium. Mitchell, a Stanford-based educator, has become a touchstone in the field of service-learning for her willingness to address the unspoken assumptions of the field. For faculty, community partners, and administrators, Mitchell’s directness has brought new freshness, energy, and yes, authenticity to the now-established pedagogy.
Speaking at St. John's University's Manhattan campus, in the contemporary Saval Auditorium, Mitchell challenged practitioners to set the bar higher and to make "social justice" an explicit goal of service-learning. To me, Mitchell's call seemed notable in light of recent debates about the public value of higher education. Yet it dovetails with a resurgence of interest in social justice curricula on campuses across the country.
Mitchell also urged listeners to take a step further and to acknowledge that the process of service-learning must itself reflect “just relationships.” We must must strive, Mitchell said, to make “not just an impact, but a difference”—in the way we build partnerships, see projects through to their true completion, recognize campus-community power dynamics, acknowledge the shifting demographics of our students, and ask ourselves hard questions—questions like whether “service” as opposed to “advocacy” is the route to true change.
Pretty powerful stuff. No wonder Mitchell’s talks have been known to fill rooms to overflowing. —Maura Christopher
* NYMAPs is the New York Metro Area Partnership for Service-Learning, an Center-led organization dedicated to the advancement of service-learning and civic engagement across the region.
Maura Christopher is director of publications at the Center. Read more about her and our other contributors here.