The impact of service-learning on student attitudes toward race and social justice

Jonathan C Dooley, Marquette University


Service-learning and community service have become increasingly common pedagogical tools in creating opportunities for college students to engage meaningfully with the world and apply knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom to "real life" settings. Educators have promoted these practices as transformative experiences that encourage students to reflect critically on the world and their experience within it and to develop habits of engaged citizenship that promote sustained commitment to a more just and equitable society. The purpose of this qualitative inquiry is to interrogate and report findings for four key questions: How do college students make meaning of their service-learning experiences? How do service-learning experiences combine with other course activities and prior experiences and personal background to affect college students' attitudes about race and social justice? How do college students communicate what they are learning and the meaning they are making from service-learning experiences? What are the positive and negative effects of service-learning on the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes about race and social justice for college students from racially and socioeconomically privileged groups? These questions are examined in the context of service-learning assigned as part of an introductory course on schooling in a diverse society within a teacher education program at an urban, Catholic, Jesuit university. Four case study narratives are presented to illustrate the experiences and meaning-making processes of students with racial and socioeconomic privilege. Also presented are findings regarding factors in five key areas across cases that influence service-learning experiences and outcomes: students' family relationships, identity development, and background; previous experiences with and exposure to diversity, poverty, and community service; current perceptions and expectations regarding race, poverty, and the role of service; service site environment, activities, and relationships; and the connection of service-learning to the course content, instructor, and teaching methods. Finally, implications are discussed for service-learning and teacher education programs, including student development perspectives, course design, service site selection, realistic expectations for courses and students, and the types of prolonged experience and cross-cultural engagement that lead students to develop a commitment to multicultural education and an ethos of teaching for social justice.

Recommended Citation

Dooley, Jonathan C, "The impact of service-learning on student attitudes toward race and social justice" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263807.