The University of Kentucky is rightly very proud of the tremendous work that our students, staff and faculty undertook on Monday during K-Week’s day of service called UK FUSION (For Unity and Service in Our Neighborhood). Managed by the Center for Community Outreach, UK FUSION brings more than 1,100 participants to volunteer at 75+ sites in Lexington — from outside yard work to painting indoors, and from sorting items in offices to serving meals in soup kitchens. This service day is a good way for our first-year students to get to know others in the UK community and also serves as an introduction to the community directly impacted by the University’s influx of students and faculty each new academic year.
This day of service, however, is not the same kind of community engagement designed with an academic component, e.g., service-learning or internship, that works in a way to enhance the college curriculum at UK. An important component for community engagement, as defined by the Carnegie Foundation, is that a partnership between a University and a community-based partner (at local, regional/state, national, or global levels) must be designed to offer an interaction that is of mutual benefit. This form of community engagement is when we see not just the exchange of resources from or services performed by the UK representative but also in those resources or services offered by the community partner – within a context of reciprocity – that we can see in the creation of new knowledge. This then requires a time of scholarly reflection on what has been jointly created, and for faculty to be able to observe evidence of personal growth, both for themselves as well as for their students.
The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.
The University of Kentucky earned the “Community Engaged” classification from the Carnegie Foundation as of 2015. You can read the full report by downloading the .pdf file here: UK Carnegie Reclassification Application April 15 2014 – and the accompanying “Partnership Grid” in a spreadsheet (download the 2015_Partnership_Grid for UK – an Excel file – here).
As you and your students are planning community-based learning this fall, be sure and design those experiences within a clear framework of understanding that allows for the community partner to contribute in the designing, implementation and assessment of the learning. Use a formal agreement with your community partner – you can find on the UGE website a model template that has been vetted by the UK Legal Counsel and will help assure a good partnership.
Even more important to understanding these principles of mutuality and reciprocity is when UK faculty and students represent all of the U.S. in a global setting. In this video, “International Volunteering” recently developed by globalsl.org and edited by Eric Hartman, research on good and bad community impacts relating to international volunteering is summarized. Some of the most high-risk activities they’ve discovered are “orphanage tourism” and pre-professional health care volunteering. GlobalSL offers a Global Citizen Guide that includes valuable resources for those planning to travel abroad in a service effort so they can “make careful, conscientious, positive contributions.”
Even then, it might not be enough to just make ourselves and our students more mindful of what we are doing and why. We want to avoid the trap of what Dr. Kristin Hudgins calls “drop-in heroism.” When the activist and photographer Boniface Mwangi spoke with students in a high school class in North Carolina, he cautioned those who sought to bring their values to others in the world – in a well-intentioned but often disrespectful effort to “help” others. He said to a young woman who wanted to travel to the Middle East or Africa to advocate for women: “You don’t know them. They don’t know you…. We have people working every day there to deal with those issues. Why don’t you start locally, before you go international [to serve others]?”
We at the University of Kentucky are working to better understand this difficult balance of mutuality, both locally and globally. The global citizenship components of the UK Core Program, for example, depends on a rigorous approach to this sensitive and often confusing issue. These principles of taking a scholarly approach to reciprocity — including research and reflection — are key to the Service-Learning initiatives undertaken by Dr. Katherine McCormick in partnership with UGE’s Academy for Undergraduate Excellence and the Stuckert Career Center’s Office of Experiential Education.
Some of this work can be as simple as inviting international students or visiting faculty into your classes and asking them to help offer alternative perspectives. Or perhaps, using webconferencing, connect with community partners in a way that allows them to participate in the scholarly questions that your students are debating. We have much yet to learn from this poignant message from a Kenyan activist.