Current community service requirements do not benefit community, hinder student growth
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Tulane University prides itself on a self-styled “culture of community.” From touting a relationship with New Orleans to the pseudo-pretentious Latin motto “non sibi, sed suis,” public service is an integral part of the school’s identity. The spirit of community service remains elusive for far too many students because service isn’t actually performed in a meaningful sense.
The current requirements of two semesters of service hardly constitute dedication to service. They serve only as boxes to check off. Service, derived from the Latin word for slave, implies sacrifice. Tulane’s current requirements do not live up to that.
To ensure community service fulfills its name, the school should mandate a designated number of service-based hours per semester. Naturally, the word “mandatory” elicits groans, but service every semester would provide a number of benefits. First, it would allow students to form meaningful ties with New Orleans. By being exposed to the city, where one in four people are in poverty, students would gain a substantive understanding of New Orleans and its residents. This would create an understanding which encompasses more than parades and festivals.
Even more, compulsory service would go a long way toward shifting the dynamic which currently exists between Tulane volunteers and those we help. Instead of a paternalistic approach, one in which students perceive themselves as the saviors of disadvantaged communities, this updated service would shift the paradigm by encouraging Tulanians to become ever-present members of the communities they serve.
This approach emphasizes Tulane’s connectedness with New Orleans, which underscores the most important aspect of community service – the community. As it stands, students risk becoming detached from the communities. This devolves service into charity. Students must learn to view the communities they serve as their own, a problem readily solved by forcing them to spend more hours in these neighborhoods.
Fortunately, Tulane offers numerous opportunities on campus for service. From the Center for Public Service to the numerous student organizations, many students already take the initiative to make a positive impact in the city. Such service, however, must go from optional to obligatory.
This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Nketiah is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]