Service Culture and Learning Programs Focus on Justice, Insight
by Jennifer Spencer
Service initiatives at Fordham, both in and outside the classroom, are helping prepare students to be global leaders through a sense of solidarity with the world around them.
Fordham’s Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice helps students find opportunities not just to engage in community service, but also to learn from the work and reflect on issues of social justice.
In addition to connecting students with volunteer opportunities, the Dorothy Day Center also partners with the FCRH and FCLC deans’ offices to offer service-learning courses for academic credit.
It’s all grounded in the Jesuit philosophy of homines pro aliis (men and women for and with others).
Grace Loughney, FCRH ’12, credits her service experience at Fordham with changing her career path. Loughney majored in American Studies at Fordham, with a minor in communications.
An internship at Time Inc.’s News Group led to a full-time job in their public relations department after her graduation. From planning galas to meeting celebrities, it seemed like a dream job.
“I loved it. The work was interesting, and I got to work with some of the most interesting people I’ve met in my entire life,” Loughney said.
But she soon found herself reflecting on service work she had done as a student, mentoring children in the Bronx through a program under the Dorothy Day Center’s umbrella.
"PR wasn’t as fulfilling for me as I wanted it to be. Because of how involved I was in service at Fordham, I decided to apply for the NYC Teaching Fellows Program after a year,” she said.
Now working as a special education teacher at Bronx Latin in the South Bronx, a school where 90 percent of students qualify for free lunch programs, Loughney said she’s grateful she discovered her love for working with children through her service work at Fordham.
“It could not have been a bigger change, but I think my instinct was correct that I really wanted to work with kids,” she said. “I love going to work every day, because I love the kids I work with,” Loughney’s experience was gained through non-academic volunteer work, but Fordham students also have an opportunity to pursue service learning for academic credit.
Fordham offers both courses that feature an integrated service component developed by faculty and an interdisciplinary seminar program, which allows individual students to work with Dorothy Day Center faculty and staff to add a service component to any course they are taking at Rose Hill or Lincoln Center.
Research on the impact of service learning for students indicates several benefits, including problem-solving skills, a sense of self-efficacy gained by seeing one’s ability to positively impact a situation, improved communication skills, and enhanced mental health.
But while the benefits to individual students matter, said Jeannine Hill Fletcher, professor of theology and faculty director of service-learning, there is a shift in thinking in the field, from a “charity” perspective to a focus on “justice.”
A justice-focused service-learning approach helps students move beyond their individual service experience and consider the broader social context.
“Being willing to give to others is an important dimension, but we also have to do the hard work of critical analysis and see what needs to be changed in terms of social structures and legislation. We don’t just focus on feeding the poor, but rather considering what are the systems that create a society that allows so many to experience homelessness or poverty,” Hill Fletcher said.
“Yes, there is a benefit to each student’s intellectual life, but there is also the benefit of a more critically engaged body of citizens that see the reality of the status of our society.”
Loughney said her entire Fordham experience helped her become a “woman for others.”
“The culture of community service at Fordham combined with what I learned in the classroom about social justice inspired me to want to do more than simply find a job,” Loughney said.
“My Fordham experience created a desire in me to want to give back, and to do as much as I can in my own community.”