The presidential election has motivated many college students to get involved in their communities. But experts at Washington University in St. Louis said good intentions can lead to bad feelings if students impose their ideas and values on those whom they want to serve.
“Students can build meaningful relationships in the community, but they have a degree of distance that must be recognized,” said Liz Kramer of theOffice for Socially Engaged Practice at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “It is important for students to understand the limitations of their time, their knowledge and their connections to the community. To have a positive impact, they must think about accountability and sustainability.”
Kramer, along with Tim Dugan of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, will teach student activists how to successfully move in and out of communities at the annual Impact Conference, hosted by Washington University Feb. 16-19. The workshop is one of 200 programs at this year’s conference, which focuses on community service, service learning and community-based research at America’s universities. Some 600 students from across the nation are expected to attend.
Former U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, founder of the Gephardt Institute at Washington University, will deliver the keynote address at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, in Graham Chapel. (Note: the address is not open to the public or the media). The Gephardt Institute serves as a matchmaker between university students and faculty and St. Louis schools and nonprofit organizations, teaching students how to work with community groups to identify needs and assess outcomes.
“Sometimes, there is a gap between what students think a community partner wants and what the community partner actually needs,” said Dugan, Gephardt Institute coordinator of student engagement and service. “So before a student group even talks to a partner, we help them think about how they will establish goals with the partner — not for the partner. This work demands a lot of humility.”