Cultural Factors in Preparing Students for Community-Engaged Scholarship

Cultural Factors in Preparing Students for Community-Engaged Scholarship

Garret J. Zastoupil (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), Elizabeth Tryon (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), Haley C. Madden (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), Nasitta A. Keita (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA) and Tashiana Dajaé Lipscomb (New York University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2208-0.ch002
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For over a decade, the authors of this chapter have heard from community partners that many college students are unprepared for community engagement. This chapter makes the case for student preparation and training by examining the current literature regarding student preparation and the authors' own research. The authors offer guiding frameworks, teaching strategies, and theoretical orientations to support student preparation before and throughout community engagement to build transformative community-based learning experiences. Using examples from their own practice, the authors illustrate strategies that lead toward successful student preparation for cross-cultural engagement.
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The practice of community-campus engagement continues to become ever more institutionalized in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across the U.S. (Bringle & Hatcher, 2000; Hartley, 2009; Jacoby, 1996). Student learning outcomes of this pedagogy have now been well-documented (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2007; Kilgo, Sheets & Pascarella, 2015; Kuh, 2008). As institutions see the value of community engagement (CE) for their students, who are increasingly asking for these experiences, more community engagement programs are offered each year, including community-based learning courses, community-based research projects, or other outreach. This activity is accompanied by a proliferation of global engagement, with study abroad CE on the rise as well (Garcia & Longo, 2013). Other countries have looked at the explosion of student volunteerism in the United States and created their own versions of CE (Butin, 2006; Murphy, Tan & Allan, 2009), adding to existing work mainly in community-based participatory research and other “Science Shop” models of responsible research (Living Knowledge, n.d.)

However, this literature has largely overlooked the impact of the student “help” on community members (Cruz & Giles, 2000; Orphan, C., Romero, D., & Diaz-Solodukhin, L., 2018; Vernon & Ward, 1999). Scholars have failed to answer the question: do students always have a positive impact, or can their interactions unintentionally cause harm (Mitchell, Donahue, & Young-Law, 2012; Sandy & Holland, 2006; Stoecker, Tryon & Hilgendorf, 2009)? In other words, are students prepared to work effectively in communities, and what happens when they are not?

CE is typically seen as a way to prepare students to be in the “real” world outside the academy (e.g. Reynolds, 2005). Indeed, the literature is rife with examples about how CE prepares students for careers by developing skills before entering their field (Felten & Clayton, 2011; Jones & Abes, 2004). Students gain course credit, professional development, and community connections; in short, academia sees CE as training for student development and advancement.

This viewpoint overlooks the connection between student preparation level, including cultural understanding and humility, and potential for benefit and harm to communities. While students are virtually guaranteed to benefit in some way, community partners1 are not (Stoecker, et al., 2009). Depending on the type of engagement, community partners may be members of underrepresented or vulnerable groups with whom students might be unfamiliar. Stoecker (2016) compared this to a scenario with untrained firefighters: “There wouldn’t be any training. In fact, the purpose of fighting fires would be to provide training. If your house burned down in the process, it would still be good training” (p. 27). Of course, students are not firefighters and are unlikely to cause damage in such a dramatic fashion, but untrained students are capable of inflicting plenty of harm on vulnerable or marginalized populations. While there is some limited evidence of particular degree programs doing some type of preparation, the authors have found little evidence of HEIs requiring training prior to community engagement at the campus level; the average instructor or co-curricular staff member is instead free to readily place untrained students in communities.

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