Volunteering, Social Justice, and the Millennial Generation

By: Trishla Jain

June 21, 2013

On June 21, 2013, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the last workshops of the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, which was on the topic of incorporating college student leadership into campus community service programs. The workshop was extremely well done and it was great to have a firsthand look at the wonderful student service program that the session presenters had put together at the University of Arkansas in only the past few years.
The slightly unsettling part of the session was the view that the presenters sometimes had when talking about the college students of my generation. They said that these students see volunteering and service as part of their identity, but they believe that identity is due to the fact that all students have to do service in order to get into college in this day and age. They also mentioned that universities should use software, which can be quite expensive, in order to track the volunteer hours of their students so that at the end of four years students have a service resume. They talked about the fact that many students become involved in service because they need to show an interest in volunteerism in order to do well in the future; students of my generation need to do service in order to receive admission into medical school, law school, graduate programs, or to be chosen for a competitive job position. They talked about service as a means to some kind of end, instead of as an end goal in and of itself.

This narrative, while pragmatic and not untrue, struck me in a way that I cannot fully explain. First, it made me happy that I go to Georgetown where our narrative surrounding students engaging in service and social justice work is extremely different. I believe that the fact that our hub for student service on campus is called the Center for Social Justice gets at the heart of how Georgetown approaches the idea of service. While it is true that students here usually enter Georgetown with the idea that they should serve because it is good to give back when they have been given so many opportunities in life, the Center for Social Justice does the hard work of not only finding places where Georgetown students can serve, but of helping them understand the social justice aspect of their service. I believe that narrative of social justice is why Georgetown students continue to serve throughout four years of undergraduate education and beyond. I have never once heard a student at Georgetown talk about their participation in the DC Schools or DC Reads Projects, ASK mentoring or prison outreach programs, or any of the Alternative Spring Break trips as a way to pad their admission to medical school or as something to add to their LinkedIn profile for future employers to peruse. The majority of the time, these students describe their service in terms of social justice and use different philosophies of education, or theories about the effects of social class or racial identity on long-term achievement, when explaining what type of service they do and why they choose to serve to others.

I love that Georgetown does not use high-priced or high-end software to track the number of hours that its students volunteer to the surrounding community and that the word “service resume” is not a part of our vocabulary. I love that Georgetown does not mandate community service hours, but yet the vast majority of the undergraduate population has at least one link to a program run through the Center for Social Justice, whether that is participating in a Community-Based Learning approved class or because they help to organize Georgetown’s annual Relay for Life event. I love that Georgetown students think critically about the communities that they serve through this work, instead of how this service will benefit them in the future. I love that Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice does not measure its success through the number of hours of service done by Georgetown students in an academic year, but by the number of students that served in one of their meaningful programs and that hopefully walked away with a new outlook on one aspect of our complicated world.

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Volunteering, Social Justice, and the Millennial Generation