- Handbook on Service Learning in Women’s Studies and the Disciplines
The Handbook on Service Learning in Women’s Studies and the Disciplines makes a very important contribution to a field of literature that is growing within both women’s studies and higher education more generally. The idea that women’s studies students should be closely connected to the feminist community is not a new one. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when women’s studies courses began popping up on college campuses, they were very closely related to the feminist movement and other political movements, such as the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. In fact, women’s studies was often referred to as the “academic arm” or “wing” of the women’s movement. That this tradition of joining theory and actual practice continues today is heartening, for this book reinforces the idea that there is no substitute for working hand-in-hand with communities in need, not as “knights in shining armor,” but as true partners working together for a common cause.
Editor Karen Dugger has collected a diverse and rich array of essays on the value and definition of service-learning, reflections on how it is done, and course syllabi that highlight ways that service-learning can be incorporated into the whole of a women’s studies course and other related courses as well. As Dugger rightly notes in the introduction: “Service is not an end in itself. Rather, the service activity is organized to meet learning objectives and to enhance students’ understanding of the course material. . . . Simply adding a service requirement to an otherwise unchanged course is not service-learning . . . ” (2). She stresses that service-learning is different from simply “volunteering,” in that it places a high premium on “reflection.” Indeed she notes that: “The mechanism through which learning is harvested—the hyphen connecting service with learning—is reflection.” This point is illustrated in an essay by Natalie Jolly, who teaches women’s studies courses at Penn State University, in which she quotes a student in her class: “I have benefited from this project in ways [End Page 174] that I can’t even explain. If someone had told me at the beginning of the semester that my views would change so much towards the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community I would never have believed them . . . . Looking back, I find it very hard to believe that I ever possessed such views” (10). This revelation is similarly underscored in another essay, in which Ann Green, the director of the Gender Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University, writes: “It is one thing to read about compulsive heterosexuality and sexist oppression, but it is another thing to engage in weekly conversations with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth about the daily homophobia in their lives”(22).
Dugger also stresses the importance of students seeing service-learning as a form of advocacy and activism rather than simply charity. She notes that service-learning should lead to the transformation of the community as well as the individual. Similarly, it is underscored that service-learning is very different from “internships,” which tend to “signal professionalization and self-advancement . . . . over social justice and personal transformation . . . ” (37). Ideally, service-learning should be an experience of teaching and learning for both the student and community partners. In at least one case, the authors strongly recommend that community partners be invited into the classroom to discuss the projects with the students.
The contributing authors to the volume, however, do warn readers that assigning or choosing a project for service-learning can be tricky and should not be taken lightly. As Betsy Eudey, the director of gender studies at California State University- Stanislaus, reflects, for example, with a topic like domestic violence, instructors should be aware of the fact that “some students have personal experiences with violence, and their ability to participate in various aspects of the project may be shaped by these experience” (27).
Moreover, it is noted that...