Conceptions of Self, Other and Society: Exploring the Impact of a Service-Learning for Social Justice Course on Student Positionality
Date of Award
Doctor of Education (EdD)
College of Education, Doctoral Program
Amira Proweller, PhD
Karen Monkman, PhD
Howard Rosing, PhD
Change models of service-learning, or service-learning for social justice courses, are educational models that deeply integrate course content and a service requirement with a social justice agenda, where students are asked to consider the positionality or relative power and privilege of all participants in the service-learning dynamic as well as institutionalized inequity along lines of race, gender, sexuality, religion and other axes of exclusion in American society. Grounded in the teachings of Freire, and his “problem posing” educational model, that casts a critical eye on the role of traditional education as a “dehumanizing” relationship that works to oppress both teachers and students alike, the literature around social justice pedagogy and service-learning models are often divided along lines of relative privilege. As not all students in higher education classrooms necessarily identify with Freire’s oppressor or oppressed groups, respectively, and the lines of privilege are often unclear when intersecting identities of oppression converge, my study sought to explore how students experience a service-learning for social justice course across boundaries of privilege.
Using an ethnographic method of research, my study examined the experiences of differently-privileged students enrolled in a social justice course with a 25-hour service component and revealed the following. First, much of what university students came to understand about social inequality, social justice and social activism in the context of a service-learning for social justice course are established before enrolling in the course and deeply tied to students’ own personal backgrounds, experiences, and positionalities. Second, when students engage in their service site with community partners, whether they experienced problems or professional direction, ultimately, they want to be able to find a way to contribute to the common good, or enact the social justice pedagogy as presented in class.
I believe my study can offer new insights into the way educators approach service-learning for social justice courses in terms of how they structure their courses to consider the positionality, or backgrounds and experiences of the students in their class with relation to each other, as well as the community at large. Second, my study offers insights into why a service-learning for social justice curriculum that transcends boundaries of privilege is critical. And third, my study shows that service experiences in the university have critical application for university students well beyond their service-learning courses, as a way to obtain solid insights, experiences and connections to the professional realm.
Weiner, Deborah Rintels, "Conceptions of Self, Other and Society: Exploring the Impact of a Service-Learning for Social Justice Course on Student Positionality" (2017). College of Education Theses and Dissertations. 92.