The material i should read:”Einfield, A, & Collins, D. (2008). The relationships between service- learning, social justice, multicultural competence, and civic engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 49(2), pp. 95-109.”The Relationships Between Service-Learning, Social Justice,
Multicultural Competence, and Civic Engagement
Aaron Einfeld, Denise Collins
Journal of College Student Development, Volume 49, Number 2, March/April
2008, pp. 95-109 (Article)
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
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The Relationships Between Service-Learning,
Social Justice, Multicultural Competence, and
Civic Engagement
Aaron Einfeld   Denise Collins
This study qualitatively examined how partici­
pants in a long-term service-learning program
described their understanding of and commitment
to social justice, multicultural competence, and
civic engagement. Interviews with members of a
university-sponsored AmeriCorps service-learning
program explored participants’ perceptions of the
effects of their service. Several participants in this
study increased their awareness of inequality, but
only some adopted a commitment to social justice.
Participants also developed several multicultural
skills while interacting with their clients, such as
empathy, patience, attachment, reciprocity, trust,
and respect. All participants expressed a commit­
ment to continued civic engagement.
The goals of higher education include more
than high academic achievement. The mission
statement of nearly every institution of higher
education refers to educating its students
“morally, and for good citizenship” (Kezar,
2002, p. 15). One of the ways in which
American higher education fosters the devel­
op­ment of good citizens is through servicelearning, a unique form of experiential
education. Students in service-learning pro­
grams complete tasks that address human
needs while also accomplishing learning goals
through reflective analysis (Kendall, 1990).
Debate over how to describe the rela­
tionship between service and learning has been
ongoing for over 30 years (Kendall, 1990).
However, Jacoby (1996) provided a definition
of service-learning that effectively synthesizes
much of the literature:
Service-learning is a form of experiential
education in which students engage in
activities that address human and commu­
nity needs together with structured oppor­
tunities intentionally designed to promote
student learning and develop­ment. Reflec­
tion and reciprocity are key concepts of
service-learning. (p. 5)
Service-learning can be curricular or co-curri­
cular (Jacoby). It is both a type of program and
a form of pedagogy that enables participants
to learn about the “historical, sociological,
cultural, and political contexts of the need or
issue being addressed” (Kendall, p. 20).
Experience, reflection, and reciprocity are key
aspects of service-learning.
This study examined a service-learning
AmeriCorps program coordinated by a univer­
sity outreach office. Students and community
members participate in this program and com­
plete considerably more service hours than
most college or university service-learning
programs. AmeriCorps mem­bers in this
program are placed at a variety of social service
agencies and commit to serving an agency for
300-675 hours over the course of several
months or an entire year. Participants are
required to attend conferences and training
sessions and to complete various reflection
activities. Participants also receive a modest
living stipend and an education award upon
completion of their service.
AmeriCorps is funded through the Corpor­
Aaron Einfeld is a Resident Director at Calvin College. Denise Collins is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
and Women’s Studies at Indiana State University.
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Einfeld & Collins
ation for National and Community Service
(CNCS), an independent federal agency,
which has as a primary mission to foster civic
engagement in college students. AmeriCorps
serves the community to address public safety,
education, community and eco­nomic
development, human needs, health, and family
self-sufficiency and stability. Since 1994 over
$1 billion of AmeriCorps Education Awards
have been earned, and one in four insti­tutions
of higher education has received funding for
programs (CNCS, n.d.). Moreover, the CNCS
hopes to engage five million college students
in service by 2010 and to ensure that there is
at least one full time staff person dedicated to
coordinating and supporting service on at least
one half of college campuses nationwide
(CNCS). Because of the strong presence of
AmeriCorps on college and university campuses
and the goal to increase that presence, it is
important to examine the experiences of
AmeriCorps members.
Charity Versus Social Change
Scholars have varying beliefs regarding even
the most fundamental nature and purpose of
service-learning. Kendall (1990) posited that
service-learning experiences should have a
specific goal of moving students along a
continuum from a mindset of providing
charity toward promoting social justice. A
social justice paradigm posits that servicelearning experiences should equip students
with the knowledge and skill to move beyond
acts of charity and to address the root causes
of systemic social inequality (Eyler & Giles,
In contrast to Kendall’s (1990) continuum
model of service-learning, Morton (1995)
argued that we should describe the various
approaches to service-learning in terms of
paradigms. These paradigms have unique
worldviews, or “ways of identifying and
addressing problems, and long-term visions of
individual and community transformation”
(Morton, p. 21). Instead of trying to move
students from a mindset of charity toward
social change, educators should challenge
students to work more effectively within their
existing paradigm (Morton). Additionally,
students must be challenged to grapple with
the tensions that exist between service-learning
paradigms (Morton). There are several servicelearning paradigms: (a) charity, (b) civic
education, (c) project, (d) communitarianism,
and (e) social justice/change (Boyle-Baise,
2002; Morton); this study focuses on the
charity and social justice paradigms.
Charity is typically understood as the
provision of direct service whereby “control of
the direct service . . . [remains] with the
provider” (Morton, 1995, p. 21). Boyle-Baise
(2002) pointed out that approaching service
with this paradigm can humble the receiver,
reinforce the advantages of the giver, and fail
to address the root causes for societal inequality.
However, acts of charity founded in spiritual
love or humanistic respect can foster unselfish
motivation to “relieve destitution, restore
human dignity, and build a more humane
world” (Boyle-Baise, p. 31).
Service-Learning Outcomes
Although service-learning experienced signi­
ficant growth during the 1990s, there has been
a relatively small base of knowledge from
which to advocate its implementation in
higher education (Eyler & Giles, 1999).
Previous research has provided evidence that
outcomes of service-learning include self-confi­
dence, social responsibility, civic-mindedness,
self-esteem, and personal efficacy (Kezar &
Rhoads, 2001). Eyler and Giles found that
service-learning is strongly correlated with
tolerance, personal development, and linking
the college experience to the community.
Research has indicated that participation in
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
reflective service-learning classes predicts
increased “complexity in analysis of both
causes and solutions to social problems” (Eyler
& Giles, p. 75). This study examines how
participation in long-term service-learning
relates to attitudes about and commitment to
social justice, multicultural competence, and
civic engagement.
Social Justice. Research has shown that
“students [can make] positive changes in their
attitudes toward social justice [and] equality
of opportunity” (Rockquemore & Schaffer,
2000, p. 15) as a result of service-learning
experiences. Everett (1998) found that 87%
of students in a sociology class with a servicelearning component agreed that their service
experiences “enhanced [their] understanding
of social inequality” (p. 304). However servicelearning should move beyond increasing
awareness and should also promote action
toward social justice (Boyle-Baise & Langford,
2004). A commitment to social justice involves
an individual actively working toward equality
for all society (Monard-Weissman, 2003).
Research on commitment and action
toward social justice after participating in
service-learning is varied. In one example, most
students from an alternative spring break
service-learning class stated a preference for
volunteering to meet individual needs rather
than addressing more systemic change (BoyleBaise & Langford, 2004). In this study “activist
views were rare for white students, but
common for students of color” (Boyle-Baise
& Langford, p. 63). In another study, students
in an international service-learning program
reported a deepened understanding of the
world, while also committing to service and
active citizenship of the world (MonardWeissman, 2003).
Multicultural Competence. One of the most
constant findings from the service-learning
research is that service experience reduces
negative stereotypes and increases tolerance for
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diversity (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Servicelearning facilitates an increased awareness of
stereotypes and assumptions while students
begin to understand larger social issues that
affect their service sites (Jones & Hill, 2001).
Students in service-learning programs consist­
ing of regular interaction with people from
different ethnic backgrounds were more likely
to report growth in self-knowledge and
personal growth (Eyler & Giles). For example,
Marullo (1998) found that students enrolled
in service-learning sections of a race relations
class showed greater increases in diversity
awareness than sections that did not contain
a service-learning component.
Service-learning is an effective tool for
developing multicultural competence because
it “offers a structure for community based
learning, collaborative in intent [and] respon­
sive to local needs” (Boyle-Baise, 2002, p. 4).
Programs with shared control listen to and
consider the perspectives of those who are “dis­
enfranchised or marginalized in our society”
(Boyle-Baise, p. 4). In this way, service-learning
is more than a means for those in power to
serve the less fortunate, but rather provides
students with a “multicultural education”
(Boyle-Baise, p. 5) whereby they begin to
understand local issues from a different
Civic Engagement. Research has docu­
mented the occurrences of civic engagement
and the advancement of democratic values as
outcomes of service. For example, Astin, Sax,
and Avalos (1999) found that performing at
least 6 hours of volunteer work per week
during the last year of college almost doubles
the likelihood that a college student will
continue to volunteer after leaving college.
Astin and Sax (1998) found that participation
in volunteer service positively corresponded
with 12 outcomes related to civic responsibility.
These outcomes included increased commit­
ment to helping others, serving the community,
Einfeld & Collins
promoting racial understanding, doing volun­
teer work, and working for a non-profit
organization (Astin & Sax).
Service-learning has also been found to
increase a general sense of responsibility and
commitment to social action (Monard-Weiss­
man, 2003). Nevertheless, one study found
conflicting results where participation in
service-learning did not increase commit­ment
toward civic or social responsibility any more
than a traditional lecture-based course (Clague,
1995). It seems that under some conditions,
service-learning is able to foster an increased
sense of civic responsibility and engagement.
Many service-learning activities are linked
to academic classes where service and reflection
are incorporated with traditional classroom
teaching (Mabry, 1998). These course-based
service projects are typically brief, consisting
of a 20- to 40-hour commitment. Another
common service-learning format is the alter­na­
tive spring break, whereby students participant
in intensive service and reflection over a
1-week period. Although these brief projects
can have meaningful outcomes for students,
an extended service-learning experience can
allow students to have more transformative
and integrative learning. Research indicates
that adequate time spent in service facilitates
positive developmental outcomes (Mabry).
This study examined the relationship of long
term participation in service-learning with
three main areas of a participant’s development:
social justice, multicultural competence, and
civic engagement. The research questions
guiding the study were:
1. What effect does participation in
AmeriCorps have on participants’
understanding of social inequality?
2. What effect does participation in
AmeriCorps have on participants’
multicultural self-awareness, knowledge,
and skill?
3. What effect does participation in
AmeriCorps have on participants’
attitudes, values, and beliefs toward civic
4. What effect does participation in
AmeriCorps have on participants’
commitment to continuing service after
completing a term of service?
This study investigated how participation in
a university-sponsored AmeriCorps program
related to the development of a participant’s
multicultural competence, understanding of
and commitment to social justice, as well as
understanding of and commitment to civic
engagement. Methodology for this study was
dictated by a constructivist theoretical per­spec­
tive (Broido & Manning, 2002). Qualitative
data were collected via interviews and analyzed
through a constructivist, inductive process in
which themes and patterns were discovered
rather than predetermined (Manning, 1999).
The guiding constructivist epistemology in
this study affirms that reality is subjectively ex­
peri­enced and interpreted by people (Manning).
Therefore, this study does not assume conti­
nuity and similarity between contexts, but
rather investigates and highlights the differences
from one context to another (Manning).
Moreover, this study acknowledges the con­
structivist assumption that context—researcher,
research setting, methodology, underlying
theory, and respondents—cannot be absolutely
detached from their subjective beliefs and
values (Manning).
Participants and Procedure
Participants were selected from a universitysponsored AmeriCorps program that is not
tied to any curriculum. AmeriCorps members
who had successfully completed a full term of
service—at least 300 hours of service in a local
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
non-profit agency—were eligible for partici­
pation for this study.
The study was conducted at a mid-sized
public university in the Midwest. The Ameri­
Corps program has been active on this campus
since 2005, with a total of 105 AmeriCorps
members since its inception.
Ten AmeriCorps members were selected
from 40 eligible participants. Purposive
sampling methods were used to collect data
from a diverse range of participants at multiple
service sites so that comparison and analysis
of multiple views within a variety of contexts
and settings was possible. Additionally,
purposive sampling was used to ensure that
the sample population reflected a diverse group
in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and the
variety of member placement sites and services
Participants received an e-mail explaining
the purpose of the study and inviting them to
be interviewed. All 10 agreed to participate,
however, one student was unable to schedule
an interview session, making 9 the final
number of participants. Participants were given
a $20 gift certificate to the university bookstore
as an incentive to participate in the study.
The 9 participants included 6 women and
3 men. Seven of the participants were White
and two were African American. Most of the
participants were traditional-aged college
students, 19–23 years old, but one participant
was 65. Agencies where the participants
completed their service included a community
center, a juvenile teen court program, a
residential facility for “at-risk” teenage girls,
an after school center, a center for clients with
developmental disabilities, and an English as
a Second Language (ESL) program.
Interviews followed a semi-structured
protocol, with questions based on each of the
research questions as initial prompts. The
interviews lasted from 45 to 80 minutes and
were held in a private conference room at the
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university. Interviews were audio tape-recorded
and transcribed, and pseudonyms were assigned
to each participant to ensure confidentiality.
Data Analysis
Interview transcriptions were analyzed through
a process of open coding, using the constant
comparative method (Strauss & Corbin,
1990). This method was utilized because of its
effectiveness in allowing considerable flexibility
in assigning and re-assigning codes to various
categories as themes emerged and evolved from
the data. This study incorporated a system of
checks to be sure of the highest degree of
accuracy, authenticity, and trustworthiness in
its final analysis and interpretation.
Member checking ensured trustworthiness
and authenticity of the conclusions. Reflective
listening techniques employed during the inter­
view gauged the accuracy of understanding of
the participants’ responses as the interview
progressed. Additionally, interpretations were
confirmed through external reviews with an
expert who has considerable expertise and
familiarity with service-learning research and
Although the interview data allowed for
considerable depth of analysis, the conclusions
in this study are based on interviews from a
small sample size from a single institution’s
AmeriCorps program. Replicating this study
on a larger scale would allow the conclusions
to be made with more confidence.
The data collected for this study were selfreported, which can skew the results due to
participant self-monitoring. Participants have
varying ability to reflect, express, and accurately
articulate their experiences. Furthermore,
several participants reported on experiences
that occurred over the course of many months.
The time delay between their early experiences
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and interviews for this study might have
affected or biased certain perceptions and
recollections. In addition, the interviews asked
for participants’ perceptions of the effects of
their service-learning experiences on social
justice, multicultural competence, and civic
engagement. This does not imply a causal
relationship, but rather the participants’ selfreports of change.
The findings of this study are organized into
participant learning and development that
occurred in three major areas: social justice,
multicultural competence, and civic engage­
ment. Length of service was an important factor
in facilitating multicultural competence.
Social Justice
Participants had varying attitudes and ap­
proaches toward societal equality and social
justice. Emergent themes within the larger
category of social justice were equality and
Equality. Attitudes toward the provision
of equal treatment in society ranged from a
general belief in the presence of equal rights
to an understanding of pervasive systemic
inequality in society. Several students reported
that serving in AmeriCorps increased their
awareness of societal inequality. For example
Jack, a 20-year-old White man who served in
a juvenile court system, stated, “I always knew
it, but I really had not seen it and now I’ve
seen it for my own eyes that some people do
get, fall in between the cracks and they just
get pushed away.” Increasing one’s awareness
of social inequality did not automatically cause
participants to feel responsible for promoting
social justice and equality. Although Lindsay,
a 22-year-old White woman, professed a
commitment to continue volunteering at the
residential “safe haven” for teen girls where she
served her hours, she also commented that
people are responsible for helping themselves.
Students with this mindset express that there
is a degree of inequality within society, but
that people are able to better themselves
because there is help available. If a member of
society is poor, there are services available that
would level the playing field once again.
Two students generalized the inequality
that they had experienced and/or witnessed at
their service sites to other populations. For
instance, Danielle, a 21-year-old White ESL
tutor, had witnessed the unfair treatment of
her clients because of their accent and nation­­
ality, as well as the significant barriers to
obtaining legal citizenship. Danielle also
discussed how one of her female clients
experienced gender discrimination in addition
to the discrimination that she received because
of her nationality. Veronica, a 21-year-old
African American woman working at an after
school center, spoke of witnessing racial
inequality and also described gender and
religious intolerance and unfair treatment. In
this way, she understood inequality at a more
pervasive and systemic level beyond her own
experience. Veronica connected social ine­qual­
ity to systemic multicultural insensitivity.
Empowerment. Education for social justice
begins by increasing one’s awareness of
inequality, however social justice education
must also equip and empower students to be
change agents toward equality (Adams, 2007).
Although most participants in this study
became more aware of social inequality, some
students reported only a limited sense of
empowerment, whereas others reported having
an infinite amount of power for change.
Many of the participants reported a sense
of empowerment that can be likened to a
“ripple effect,” whereby the impact of one
action is felt in widening circles. Danielle
explained how this ripple effect would impact
her ESL students:
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
I’ve always felt this way, but [AmeriCorps]
definitely helped me realize a broader
spectrum of how much you can affect in
life. I mean maybe me just being able to
help those 17 students—now they’re going
to be able to help their children, and their
children are going to be able to help other
people, and they’re going to be able to do
better in their jobs. They’re going to be
able to do better in their life here in
Brooke, a 19-year-old White woman, also
spoke of discovering her power. After serving
clients who were developmentally disabled she
said, “I learned that I was a lot stronger than
I thought I was.” Brooke spoke of her newfound
patience and perseverance, which gave her
power. When asked if she had power to change
things, Brooke said, “Everyone does. I just
found it.”
Although several participants described a
sense of personal empowerment at their
specific service site, some participants described
empowerment at a more systemic level. Julia
(a 22-year-old White woman working at a
community center) and Veronica explained
their empowerment in terms of groups and
organizations. Julia noted the power of a
collective age group to flex their muscles by
voting and speaking out, and Veronica de­
scribed the power of organizations such as
NAACP or large corporations and government
entities to make society more just.
Multicultural Competence
Awareness, knowledge, and skill are three
components of multicultural competence
(Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2004). Awareness
in this study refers to an individual’s self
awareness and how cognizant they are of their
own values, culture, and assumptions. Knowl­
edge refers to an individual’s content knowledge
of other culture groups. An individual with
high multicultural skill uses her or his self
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awareness and knowledge of other cultures to
engage in culturally appropriate behavior with
other culture groups (Pope et al.). Length of
service was an important factor in facilitating
the development of multicultural awareness,
knowledge, and skill in the participants.
Awareness. Some of the participants
reported an increased awareness of their privi­
lege in terms of economic status or familial
stability and upbringing. For example, Jack
said about his service to juvenile offenders,
I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I
started doing all this, and thinking well
I’ve really had a good life. . . . I’ve had
everything that I’ve ever wanted and
everything where some of these kids just
Veronica had a good understanding of
multiple dimensions of diversity as she cited
examples of how religion, race, and gender
impacted how people are treated. For example,
Veronica noticed from her own experience that
she had a harder time gaining the respect of
the children in her after school programs than
the male volunteers. She pointed out that
I could yell as much as I wanted to but
they’re not listening to me until [a male]
volunteer starts yelling at them. . . . The
other person has to mediate because they
just won’t listen to me ’cause I’m a
Knowledge. James described how his
upbringing in a small rural town limited his
multicultural knowledge and preconceptions
at the beginning of his service. He stated,
I got fed that like, as sad as this is, that all
African Americans are just moochers and
they always want stuff. . . . I was always
told you know, they’re nothing but scum
and stay away from them because they’re
James said that at the beginning of his
service that he “hated most of the kids.” He
Einfeld & Collins
described how his service transformed him by
challenging his stereotypes.
But now, [I] love the kids. Once I’m here
I can’t shut up talking to people. My whole
view of the African American community
has changed because there’s some kids [at
the community center] that act better
than kids that go to my church back
home. And that has been like the biggest
thing, you know, changing my mind and
my view of it, like all of them.
James also gained knowledge of the history
of “White flight,” and how it impacted the
racial makeup of the neighborhood where he
Skill. Multicultural skill manifested itself
in interpersonal and relationship skills. Many
facets of multicultural skill, such as increased
capacities for empathy, patience, attachment,
trust, and respect, emerged from the interviews.
One of the most consistent findings from
this study was the ability of the participants
to empathize with those whom they served.
Every participant described gaining a better
under­standing of the stories and life experiences
of her or his clients. In addition to being more
able to empathize with other people, the
participants frequently reported they had
become much more patient as a result of their
Many participants expressed deep attach­
ments to their clients that formed over time.
For example, when asked if she was attached
to any of her clients, Veronica exclaimed, “Oh
yea. Oh my gosh yea!” She said, “You got to
know all the kids. . . . You know them deeply.
And I didn’t really get that experience [with]
any [previous] volunteering.”
Several participants described reciprocal
relationships with their clients in which
mutual learning occurred. For instance, Eric
noted, “You learn more through and from
them by listening rather than speaking.”
Veronica stated, “You’re helping out. You’re
here . . . to learn, . . . to absorb everything that
these people have to offer you. And you’re
trying to better them, but you have to realize
that they’re bettering you as well.”
As the participants worked to build
relationships, themes of trust and respect
consistently emerged from the interview data.
Some participants articulated their respect for
their clients while also discussing their efforts
to earn the respect of their clients. James
The kids need me and need a positive role
model, especially guys because the only
opinion that the kids have about guys is
they come in, maybe sleep with their
mom, beat her, use her, and then he’s
gone. . . . And being male, the supervisor
has told me numerous times, you are
already at the disadvantage with the kids
because they don’t think too highly of you
and that actually has been a struggle with
some of them, you know, like gaining
their trust.
Length of Service. The significant length
of service was a contributing factor to develop­
ment of multicultural competence in the parti­
cipants. Veronica described the importance of
time in her experience:
AmeriCorps is continuous. It was every
day pretty much. And I just got to know
everyone so much better than normal
volunteering experiences because I was
there for almost a year. . . . People who
were only there for like 2 hours a week,
or 3 hours a week, they start to complain,
“Oh these kids don’t listen to me.”
Increasing the length of service at a site
provides participants with the necessary time
to develop rapport and meaningful relation­
ships with their clients. Moreover, serving
several hours per week at a site is likely to
increase participants’ comfort with client
interaction more quickly than episodic service.
Forming these relationships over time is essen­
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
tial in continually developing multicultural
competence (Pope et al., 2004).
Civic Engagement
For the purposes of this study, civic engagement
was broadly defined as an understanding of
active citizenship and a commitment to serving
one’s community. Several participants expressed
a commitment to volunteerism and civic
engage­ment that was in place before their
service with AmeriCorps. Most participants
articulated the necessity for citizens to be
“other oriented.” Several participants articu­
lated a desire to “give back” to the community.
Eric described a particularly strong need to
give back to his community.
I wanted to give back to the community
because, for example, my being involved
with selling drugs and things of this
nature, I took from the community and
I know in so many ways corrupted
children’s hearts and minds. . . . But when
I saw the light, I was able to try and have
hopefully been successful with influencing
a lot of the other kids and turning them
away from the streets and to acknowledge
how bad it is out in the streets.
Most participants described a good citizen
as an active citizen. All participants expressed
a commitment or a desire to continue serving
their communities, however their differing
atti­tudes toward citizenship dictated the form
of their commitment. Some participants
wanted to avoid political engagement, whereas
others saw the necessity of being a part of the
political process. Annie hoped to work around
the government instead of through it. She said,
I learned patience but not that much! I
think politics are a dangerous thing
because it’s crooked. . . . So I think [active
citizenship is] the work you can do outside
of the realm of the government.
In contrast, Veronica felt an obligation and a need
to engage the political process. Veronica said,
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Politically, if there is someone [who] is
supposed to be representing [us], and you
obviously aren’t doing what’s right, I
mean, I have to step in. You know, I hear
about it and I’m going to say something
and I’m going to do something about it.
The wide range of attitudes, beliefs, and levels
of commitment to social justice, multicultural
competence, and civic engagement expressed
by the participants in this study underscores
the complexity of service-learning experiences.
Jones (2002) pointed out that although servicelearning experiences can spark significant
development, this development is not auto­
matic. Instead, there are some instances where
service-learning experiences can be damaging
to students and the community (Jones). The
data from this study reinforce the potential for
positive transformation through servicelearning.
There are countless personal characteristics
and situational variables that account for the
personal developmental outcomes of the
participants in this study. However, some
major variables are important to mention. The
participants who had previously experienced
inequality generally had a better understanding
of how inequality impacts individuals on a
day-to-day basis than those who had not.
These participants included two people of
color and a White woman who had experienced
being treated unfairly as a minority when
volunteering abroad.
Each participant had been selected and
placed at his or her service site through an
interview and screening process. This process
attempted to place individuals who exhibited
prior commitment to and participation in
service activities. Most of the participants had
previous volunteer experience. Therefore, the
pool of participants for this study may have
been predisposed to a certain service paradigm.
Einfeld & Collins
A high frequency of volunteering did not
necessarily imply a deep desire for social
change. Much of the participants’ previous
volunteering had a charity paradigm rather
than a social justice paradigm (Morton, 1995)
and probably shaped the initial experience of
participants when placed at their service sites.
However all participants expressed a desire and
commitment to continued civic engagement
upon completing their service, regardless of
their motivation for charity or social change.
This indicates that a long-term service place­
ment can foster a desire and commitment
to continued civic engagement and active
For some participants, their understanding
of civic engagement was influenced by their
high multicultural competence and commit­
ment to social justice. For these participants,
multiculturalism provided the worldview from
which to address inequality through active
civic engagement. Other participants became
aware of social inequality as a result of their
service but did not integrate an understanding
of multicultural and social justice issues into
their understanding and commitment to civic
Social Justice and Charity
Each participant acknowledged and witnessed
inequality, however some participants devel­
oped a social justice paradigm and others
adopted a charity paradigm. It is possible that
these differences in paradigms were the result
of varied backgrounds and personal differences.
However it is also possible that some partici­
pants did not adopt a social justice paradigm
because the ongoing training and reflection
they received was not an effective form of
social justice education. Social justice education
should include “the analysis of oppression at
individual, cultural, and insti­tutional levels”
(Boyle-Baise & Langford, 2004, p. 55).
Participants in this study reflected about social
issues in their journals, however there could
have been more structured analysis at monthly
meetings to stimulate discussion about the
social, cultural, and institutional systems that
contribute to inequality. When students are
exposed to frequent and high quality reflection,
they are more likely to report a greater degree
of learning and development (Eyler & Giles,
1999). The findings of this study emphasize
the importance of the educator in helping
students make sense of service-learning
Social Justice Education: Awareness
and Empowerment
Spreading awareness of social inequality while
also empowering students to work for social
change are two key components of social
justice education. In this way, social justice
education produces citizens who are aware of
social injustices. These citizens also feel em­
powered and committed to working toward
social justice. Service-learning provides stu­
dents with the opportunity to witness inequal­
ity first hand while also providing tangible
experiences that can build confidence and
feelings of empowerment. Participants in this
study reported personal empowerment because
they could see the impact of their service
(Everett, 1998) in the personal lives of the
clients they served. Providing experiences for
students to engage social issues at institutional
levels such as a local school district, university,
or city government might enhance the confi­
dence of students and empower them to pursue
social change at these institutional levels.
Multicultural Development and
Length of Service
The findings of this study were consistent with
previous service-learning research on diversity
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
and multicultural competence. Research has
consistently found that service-learning
experiences reduce negative stereotypes and
increase tolerance for diversity (Eyler & Giles,
1999). The findings in this study also provide
insight into how multicultural competence can
develop. Rhoads (1997) pointed out that
service-learning, at its core, is a reciprocal and
relational phenomenon. This relational pheno­
menon sparked the development of multi­
cultural competence in the participants of this
study. Participants became more aware of their
background and identity as they compared
themselves to the clients whom they served.
Participants also widened their worldviews as
they gained content knowledge by listening to
the stories and history of their clients while
observing how their clients experience and
interact with the world.
Most importantly, the considerable length
of service required by this program gave
participants the time and opportunity to
establish and maintain reciprocal relationships
with clients who were typically very different
from them. They were able to develop several
interpersonal skills necessary for effectively
interacting in a multicultural setting such as
empathy, patience, attachment, reciprocity,
trust, and respect. These findings are consistent
with Armstrong’s (2005) study, which found
that service-learning experience fostered
significant psychosocial student development,
such as developing mature interpersonal
relationships. Service-learning’s transformative
power is derived from mutually shaping
relationships, which often cross racial/ethnic
or social class lines. It was evident in this study
that forming cross-cultural relationships
through service over an extended period of
time can enhance an individual’s capacity to
en­gage in meaningful multicultural inter­
M arch /A pril 2008
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49 no 2
Social Justice through Civic
There is general agreement that individuals
and institutions should civically engage,
contributing to their communities. However
the data from this study revealed that indi­vid­
uals have varying definitions of “civic engage­
ment” because of their differing atti­tudes,
backgrounds, and goals. Active citizenship can
mean anything from going on a field trip with
your kids to a lifelong dedication to fighting
systemic inequality. This study reveals a lack
of consensus regarding the definition of civic
engagement and indicates the need for a
common definition.
It is also important to explore the purpose
of civic engagement. It is not enough to simply
be an active or “engaged” citizen. Civic engage­
ment and active citizenship in a democracy
should be a vehicle for pursuing democratic
ideals of justice and equality in a multicultural
society (Hurtado, 2007). These democratic
values are consistent with Warren’s (1998)
definition of social justice whereby society is
constantly striving for equality, inclusion,
peace, and active participation. In other words,
an ideal democratic society is a socially just
society. If the goal is to educate for democratic
citizenship, then higher education professionals
must provide social justice education and foster
multicultural competence in their students. If
the goal is to educate citizens for social justice,
then one must carefully examine how one
shapes educational experiences to foster a sense
of empowerment and commitment in students
to work for social justice. These educational
experiences include everything from course
work and co-curricular service-learning to
programming efforts in residence halls, student
activities, and judicial interventions.
Einfeld & Collins
Social Justice versus Personal
Although most of the participants in this study
expressed a sense of personal empowerment,
a majority of the participants did not express
a commitment to actively pursuing social
change for social justice. This was probably
because the educational focus and structured
reflection of the program in this study were
directed toward personal development. Reflec­
tion activities for the participants in this study
included goal setting, problem solving, conflict
resolution, leadership, and active citizenship
discussions. A personal development approach
to service is helpful but does not analyze
historical, economic, and political factors that
contribute to social inequality in various
communities (Snarr, 2003).
The overall lack of commitment to pursue
systemic social change by the participants in
this study is evidence that being exposed to
situations of inequality and serving under­
privileged populations does not automatically
foster a commitment to social justice. This
underscores the importance of the role of the
educator in helping students to make the
connection from their service to larger social
issues. Effectively making these connections
requires that service-learning educators have
an adequate level of knowledge and expertise
about relevant historical, economic, and
political systems and structures that affect the
populations that their students serve. Therefore
service-learning educators must commit to
learning about these topics as they relate to
social justice. Collaboration with knowledge­
able faculty in areas such as history, social
work, sociology, and political science is an
essential component of a co-curricular servicelearning program that seeks to educate for
social justice. Service-learning educators can
then draw on their personal knowledge of
social structures to creatively spark reflection
and analysis about how social justice issues
directly impact their service experiences. In
this way, service-learning experiences can foster
personal development in addition to providing
a more complex understanding of social issues.
When students are exposed to frequent, high
quality structured reflection they report
significant learning and development (Eyler &
Giles, 1999). As Rhoads (1997) pointed out,
reflection and service must go beyond increas­
ing an awareness of poverty issues. Action and
reflection must work cohesively to inspire
participants to commit to changing structures
that cause social and economic inequality
Integrating Multicultural Education
Lack of multicultural knowledge and skill are
a driving force behind social inequality.
Therefore a multicultural education is a neces­
sary component of understanding structural
inequalities and how to produce social change
toward equality and justice. Reflection activities
must be designed to foster an increase in
multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skill.
These activities are important because they
help students confront
the reality that if they truly care about the
other and have a desire to alter social
conditions they must consider community
building and community service not as a
one time endeavor but as a process
demanding their continued attention.
(Rhoads, 1997, p. 186)
The findings from this study indicate that
participating in a long-term service commit­
ment often facilitates the development of
multicultural competence in participants.
However intentional efforts by educators could
deepen the multicultural knowledge and skills
that naturally develop as participants enter
reciprocal relationships with clients who are
Journal of College Student Development
Relationship of Service Learning
different from themselves.
Moreover, the findings from this study
reveal the tremendous value of developing
relationships across cultural lines. Relation­
ships have the power to prove stereotypes and
prejudice wrong and to enable reconciliation.
Educators should put students in situations
where the students are able to develop positive
relationships cross culturally through sustained
contact with people of other cultures.
Further research could compare the
outcomes of service-learning programs with
guided reflection that focuses on personal
development versus reflection that emphasizes
an analysis of systemic social inequalities.
Because the predominant reflection method
for the participants in this study was personal
journaling, it would be beneficial to investigate
the varying effects of other forms of reflection,
such as large- or small-group discussions,
artistic expression, interaction with knowledge­
able faculty, or interviews with individuals at
the service site, on the development of and
commitment to social justice through civic
The participants in this study were unique
because they received a modest living stipend
and monetary education award in compen­
sation for their service. This could have had a
considerable effect on the developmental
outcomes resulting from service. More research
is needed to understand how monetary
compensation affects or does not affect parti­
cipant multicultural competence or commit­
ment to social justice through civic engagement.
Researchers should look to various paid intern­
ships and community work-study programs
for insight about how monetary compensation
might impact student develop­ment. Although
these programs do not neces­sarily use servicelearning pedagogy, they might provide valuable
information about money, service, social
change, and motivation.
Future research could investigate how
M arch /A pril 2008
◆ vol
49 no 2
service-learning participants are impacted
differently by different kinds of service
placements. How does working with homeless
adults impact service participants differently
than working with children with low incomes
at a community center? How do personal
characteristics and backgrounds mitigate this
development? Knowledge in these areas could
enable practitioners to carefully place students
at service sites where their unique characteristics
have the highest probability of stimulating
growth and development.
The findings of this study are significant
and important to educators because they
provide unique and valuable insight into how
participants make meaning of an extended
service-learning experience. Much of the
previous service-learning literature has focused
on the outcomes of service experiences that
are connected to a semester course and has
neglected service programs that require a more
extended term of service.
Participants in this study had a wide
variety of backgrounds and experiences and
were placed in several different service settings.
In spite of these considerable differences,
common themes emerged that provide edu­
cators with helpful information for how better
to design service experiences to enhance
student development. For example, partici­
pants are not likely to develop a commitment
to social justice unless they are provided with
opportunities to analyze social problems at the
systemic level. Without such analysis, service
commitment typically takes the form of
charity, which can reinforce positions of
privilege and dependence.
During long-term service placements,
participants are able to develop strong relation­
ships with their clients. Participants must hone
their skills for multicultural interactions as
they strive to develop meaningful and reci­
procal relationships with their clients. These
deep relationships can provide a catalyst for
Einfeld & Collins
multicultural learning and development.
Therefore educators should provide students
with the opportunity to develop long term
cross cultural relationships through service
A primary goal of higher education is to
create responsible, moral, and productive
citizens. Service-learning programs provide the
opportunity for students to explore their
understanding of citizenship and responsibility
to society. There are many definitions of
citizenship, however most of these definitions
do not address how to be a citizen in a
multicultural or pluralistic society (Hurtado,
2007). We propose that a responsible, moral,
and productive citizen is committed to
fostering social justice through civic engage­
ment. This engagement must be informed by
multicultural competence. In this way, social
justice, multicultural competence, and civic
engagement are interrelated and should not be
seen as separate entities. Education for
citizenship should not simply encourage civic
engagement and active citizenship. Education
should also equip students with the multi­cul­
tural competence, understanding of systemic
inequality, and empowerment to effectively
pur­sue social justice through civic engagement.
When carefully designed, long-term servicelearning experiences provide a means for
teaching and exploring this type of synthesized
Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to
Aaron Einfeld, VanderWerp Hall, 3201 Burton St. SE,
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI 49546; aaron.einfeld
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