8. Transforming Student Ideas about Community Using Asset-Based Community Development Techniques
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143 8 Transforming Student Ideas about Community Using Asset-Based Community Development Techniques Lisa Garoutte Service learning and community-based learning (CBL) are increasingly important pedagogical tools in higher education. The potential benefits of service learning and CBL are as varied as the type of experiences, which range from traditional service (sometimes called a “charity” model) to efforts aimed at creating lasting, sustainable change in the community (Lewis, 2004; Peterson, 2009). The primary goal in traditional service learning is to create enriching educational opportunities for students while also providing a service to the community (Mooney & Edwards, 2001). Those who follow a social change model, on the other hand, are typically focused on creating more equitable communities rather than offering assistance for a short period of time. Working with the community, rather than doing for/to the community, is key with this kind of work (Eby, 1998; Steiner, Warkentin, & Smith, 2011). While the distinction between the two may not seem great, there has been significant debate between the two camps. One of the primary criticisms leveled at traditional service learning is that it can leave students with the perception that disempowered groups are hopelessly dependent on outside actors and thus have neither the skills nor ability to help themselves. As a result, this type of work has the potential to reinforce student stereotypes about oppressed groups rather than challenge students to think beyond those confines (Camacho, 2004; Eby, 1998; Mitchell, 2008; Peterson, 2009). As such, power relationships are reinforced in ways that sustain an unjust status quo. Despite these concerns, many point to the pitfalls of not involving students with the community. Not only are there significant educational benefits to doing so (see, for 144 | Garoutte example, Battistoni, Longo, & Jayandadhan, 2009; Chesler, Ford, Galura, & Charbeneau , 2006; Eyler & Giles, 1999; Mobley, 2007; Murphy & Rash, 2008; Peterson, 2009; Schamber & Mahoney, 2008), but maintaining a strict separation between the academy and surrounding areas reinforces an “us versus them” mentality, which is, in and of itself, problematic for building community. It is for this reason that many faculty have turned to the social justice model of community-based learning. Indeed, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) provides a great deal of insight into how to best engage in CBL for social justice. While the literature is instructive, it also makes clear the difficulty of doing this work well. At best, properly engaging in community-based learning with a social justice goal is complex and requires a great deal of work before, during, and after the semester. Before meeting with students, and before even developing a project or identifying community partners, faculty must be engaged in the community, building trust and growing genuine relationships (Lewis, 2004). Once the semester is underway, this work expands as faculty must continue to nurture their community relationships while also facilitating the project and guiding students to create their own meaningful relationships within the community. It is especially important that students and faculty alike be welcomed by community members as their input and cooperation are essential for justice-focused CBL. Intensive conversations with students about issues of race, class, and gender, for example, are also necessary for success (Green, 2003). Finally, maintaining positive relationships after the semester’s end and ensuring needs have been adequately met are essential to change-focused community-based learning. Of course, these difficulties do not mean that this type of work is not worth doing. But the time and effort it requires can deter busy faculty, even those with the best intentions. The realities of academic life only add to these challenges: the academic calendar , course rotations, and competing demands for student time are a few examples of structural constraints that make true social justice CBL so difficult. It can be especially challenging for pretenure faculty who may face greater pressure to publish than those who are already tenured (Lewis, 2004). This concern weighs heavily on those at institutions where the tenure and promotion structure privilege traditional scholarship and service to the institution over social justice work in the community. A preference in many disciplines for “pure,” “objective,” and “unbiased” research is another roadblock faced by faculty (Stoecker, 1996). The question, then, becomes one of practicality as well as ideals. How can one engage students in community-based learning, address concerns of social justice, and avoid the potential pitfalls of a charity approach to community work? In this chapter, I argue that using elements of asset-based community development, known as ABCD or asset mapping, helps to better...


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