On August 25, Jessica Evert, executive director of Child Family Health International and the editor of Developing Global Health Programming: A Guidebook for Medical and Professional Schools, and Eric Hartman, an assistant professor in Kansas State University’s Staley School of Leadership Studies and editor of globalsl.org, will lead a collaborative NAFSA Global Learning Faculty Conversation on developing ethical service-learning programs that provide global learning experiences and empower communities.
To kick off the conversation, NAFSA asked Evert and Hartman a few questions about what their panel of interprofessional leaders in global health education, service-learning, and global engagement plan to address in the upcoming “Service Through Learning: Ethics, Partnerships, and Best Practices” Faculty Conversation.
Why are ethics an important subject when discussing service-learning?
Hartman: When individuals and institutions engage in service-learning, they do so because they intend to make a positive difference in communities or in society more broadly. But it's not simple to make a positive difference through service-learning. Research from decades of community and international development, as well as the field of service-learning, makes clear that it is possible, and in some cases even likely, to actually harm communities if individuals attempt service-learning without an awareness of broader ethical and contextual issues. But service-learning can also be a powerful force for personal and community development.
What kind of experiences and lessons learned do you hope participants share on this topic?
Hartman: There are absolutely ways to do this work well. Unfortunately in the broader dialogue on service-learning, especially when coupled with the growth in “volun-tourism” that has affected parts of the study abroad sector, the service-learning "conversation" is sometimes reduced to a rather silly "yes/ no" or "good/bad" conversation. It's just not that simple. Service-learning can be bad. It can also be good. The experts coming together for this conversation bring partnership processes, policies, and commitments that are informed through decades of global health work. Those are the kinds of insightful approaches that embrace complexity and move us forward in a nuanced way.
What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities that students in service-learning programs, especially those focused on global health, can face?
Evert: A central challenge is the pressure, including the pressure placed on the student by themselves, their university, their faculty, and assumptions held by their wider social network, that impacts in “communities in need” are immediate and amenable to relatively short periods of engagement and efforts. In reality, sustainable progress, development, and gains for human well-being more often result from long-term policies/economic efforts or short bursts of locally-originating disruption, usually on the heels of long-in-coming tipping points. As educators, we need to understand how to frame humility, idealism, humanism, and realism all in the same educational experience, defining service as a life-long commitment and professional route, rather than an easily achievable end for a short-term international education experience.
How will this event help educators prepare for some of the potential ethical issues their students might face in a service-learning program?
Evert: As educators, we all long for the tools to be able to process ethical tenants, conflict, and tensions faced by ourselves, our institutions, and our students. This program will provide those essential tools and resources to feel comfortable addressing these often complex topics.