From “Oh My Gosh I'm Going to Get Mugged” to “See[ing] Them as People Who Are Just Like Me”

From “Oh My Gosh I'm Going to Get Mugged” to “See[ing] Them as People Who Are Just Like Me”

Bernadette Ludwig (Wagner College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9953-3.ch013
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Since the “service” component exposes college students to individuals in the community who often differ from them in their ethnoracial, socioeconomic, linguistic background, and age, etc. these classes present an ideal opportunity to test Allport's (1954) intergroup contact hypothesis. This theory stipulates that prejudice can be reduced if certain criteria are met. This case study about freshmen students' service learning experiences with a local West African community tested this theory and found that over the semester students' stereotypes changed. In addition, this research project showed that the experiences of ethnoracial minority and/or immigrant students differed from their White peers; due to race, ethnicity, language, and/or immigration status, they were cultural insiders which enabled them to build more meaningful relationships with the community members.
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I grew up hearing a lot of negative stereotypes about African Americans and people who lived in Africa. I had a preconceived notion of what people from Africa and black people were like, and I would secretly judge others based off of that. I never really thought my mind could be changed until I went to Napela. Going there really opened my eyes to the world, and pushed me out of the bubble I was living in for the last 18 years of my life which I am now super thankful for. – Katelyn,1 White2 freshman student from suburban New York City



A good number of colleges and universities throughout the United States either encourage or require their students to participate in community engagement activities. Administrations and civic engagement centers on the different campuses promote this form of education as an opportunity for students to learn about “real-world” issues and to get to know the community outside their campus; latter being especially important for predominantly residential colleges (Campus Compact, 2014).

But there is much more to this. In this chapter the author argues that college students’ community engagement tests Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis which states that if groups/individuals of different backgrounds encounter each other on an equal level, prejudice and racism can be reduced. Additionally, it is not only the college students who change their views and perceptions but also the community members with whom they are working. Perhaps most significantly—if done right—this approach can rectify a common problem of civic engagement programs on colleges, mostly middle and upper-class White American students “helping” the poor communities around the college. If not addressed, this approach intensifies and strengthens already existing inequalities and power-dynamics. Finally, the opportunity to work with an outside community--most often it is one that is economically disfranchised and/or ethnoracially different from the mostly White students at liberal arts colleges--offers immigrant students and/or students of color an opportunity to not stand out but rather to fit in. While middle/upper class (White) students can be reluctant to go to these communities, most students of color and/or immigrant students tend to look forward to an opportunity like this, knowing that they will feel comfortable in this environment and bring the necessary skills to create meaningful connections with the community members (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community: Community is used to refer to the quality or character of human relationships and social interactions that bind persons to each other to form a social group; often, but not always theses people share a bounded geographic territory, and/or common culture.

Ethnoracial: A term that captures both ethnic and racial groups. This is necessary as certain groups, such as North Africans and Arabs are counted as “White” in the U.S. census, but their daily experiences are not those of White Americans. In addition, according to the U.S. census, Hispanics are an ethnic group, however they are often treated like a racial group.

Socioeconomic Status: A person's position in society based on the level of educational attainment, occupation, and income of that person of that person's household.

Stereotype: Unreliable, exaggerated generalization about the behavior or characteristics of all members of a group that do not take individual differences into account.

Immigrant: Foreign-born individual who came to a new country as a permanent resident; can be naturalized citizens of the new country.

Race: Is not biological but a social construct. For example people are classified according to their geographic origins, their skin color, etc. and these traits are given meaning/significance.

Neighborhood: Any sociospacial environment, often defined by a political ward or precinct.

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