Liberating Service Learning- Reflection from Wisconsin

Greeting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison! My name is Garret Zastoupil, and I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2017 with a Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. I began working with UConn’s Office of Public Engagement during my graduate work, and am continuing to work with OPE as I pursue a PhD in Human Ecology: Civil Society and Community Research. My research interests are in the civic purposes of higher education, trying to better understand how we develop an educated citizenry and improve public engagement.

This semester, I’ve been asked to share thoughts about living in both worlds, and I’ve happily agreed to do so! This semester I’m engaged in a seminar course titled “Becoming a Community Engaged Scholar.” I have the privilege of engaging with a group of fellow graduate students to explore what it means to practice community engagement. We began the course by reading “Liberating Service Learning And the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement” by Randy Stoecker. The book, and our group, is grappling with the promise and pitfalls of higher education and where our priorities lie. Stoecker (2016) calls for a re-prioritization of civic engagement in higher education, decentering student learning for social change. Which, based both on my training in UConn’s HESA Program and my work with with Public Engagement, has fundamentally challenged my beliefs about this work.

At first, I grappled with the seemingly paradoxical nature of this. How we can prioritize social change over student learning, especially as educational institutions? Yet, this is a false choice: social change or student learning. It can be both, it’s just more challenging, and requires more courage from us as educators, researchers, and community members to get into the mess. At the heart of Stoecker’s book is the idea the sociological concept of “knowledge-power” asserting that our role as academics is to expand who has access the power to create knowledge by including community members into our own knowledge production through our teaching, learning, and research. What then, could triangulating academicians, students, and community members in the knowledge production process mean for social change? That is the question I’ll leave with, because that is where our course is.