Announcement of Ed.D. Dissertation Defense Madinah Janay Elamin: “Walking the Talk: Investigating University-Community Partnerships through a Critical Service-Learning Program”

12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Service-learning experiences assist in developing students’ knowledge, skillsets, and critical-thinking abilities in real-world settings. University faculty/staff often use service-learning programs to expose students to challenges and inequalities faced within the local community, particularly in neighboring urban areas. Students “engage” with the community with the aim of ameliorating issues such as inadequate education, understaffed/under-financed healthcare, and food insecurity. However, critics of traditional service-learning programs argue these initiatives benefit universities rather than community partners and often include white-centered and classist approaches to curriculum, reifying stereotypes, and discrimination rather than reducing it. Critical service-learning proponents argue that service-learning programs that are based on what community members identify as a need and that teach students to understand how inequity & power are central to dismantling structures of injustice, create more authentic partnerships between universities and communities. However, much of the work in this area is theoretical, with few studies of what critical service learning looks like in action.
In an effort to address this imbalance in the literature, this qualitative case study examined a specific service-learning program within a research university in New Jersey, and how this program enacted critical service-learning assumptions. Employing interviews, observations and document analysis, this study inquired into the meaning, purpose, and practices of the program from the viewpoint of faculty/staff, community partners, and students. It was found that the program embodies aspects of critical service-learning by using a funds of knowledge approach to ground its conceptualization, centering power and inequity through the delivery of program components, and by providing opportunities for multiple stakeholder engagement. This study offers concert suggestions for improving community engagement through service learning.
Keywords: Service Learning, Community Engagement, Power Structure, Social Justice, Critical Theory
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