Becoming People for and with Others: Advancing Social Justice through Interdisciplinary Study and Service in the Jesuit Tradition

Andrew F. Miller, Ana M. Martinez Aleman, and Meghan T Sweeney


Inspired by Boyer’s (1990) “scholarship of engagement,” college and university service-learning programs have sought to link theory and practice by partnering with communities to pursue solutions to many persistent social problems. By combining academic work with community action and engagement, service-learning programs engage students in pedagogy intended to develop their critical thinking and reflective praxis (Freire, 1996). Through service-learning, college and university students can better understand that meaning (knowledge) is context-laden and hopefully learn to avoid the “analytic fallacy” of academic knowledge free of context (Hickman & Alexander, 1998, p. 208). Dewey’s assertion that theory is never free of experience is reiterated in Frcire’s (1996) claim that theory cannot be devoid of or separated from practice. Further, through reflection and action, students can embody theory and attain praxis. Critical knowing, then, is the act of practicing ideas or theory and reflecting on their validity.

University service-learning programs arc known to produce many positive personal, cognitive, and academic outcomes for individual students (Eyler et al., 2001; Astin et al., 2000), and to provide value to communities (Ferrari & Worrall, 2000; Schmidt & Robby, 2002). Many colleges and universities have institutionalized service-learning, motivated not only by the plethora of positive student outcomes but also by a continued desire to make tangible higher education’s commitment to public service and global citizenship (Bringle & Hatcher, 2000; Larkin, 2018). For example, in the 1980s, university leaders convened to discuss higher education’s mission as a public, civic, and democratic good. Concerned about higher education’s role in the era of “personal acquisition and personal advancement,” scholars from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and many university presidents and chancellors

Becoming People for and with Others 109 founded Campus Compact to institutionalize higher education’s commitment to the public good through community-based student experiences designed to foster their civic engagement and commitment to democratic ideals (Campus Compact, 2015). Today, Campus Compact holds over 1,000 institutional signatories (Campus Additionally, the Wingspread Meeting in 1995 and the Gathering in 1997 brought together the pioneers and practitioners of university service-learning programs to discuss and examine the institutionalization of service-learning, new and continuing challenges, and reflections on lessons from the first 50 years of programming (Stanford University Libraries, 2020).

This chapter examines an integrated model for bridging traditional curricular/co-curricular divides through service-learning programming that is intentionally anchored to institutional mission and informed by interdisciplinary academic course work. Boston College is home to the PULSE Program for Service-learning that educates undergraduate students for social justice through the interplay of direct service with individuals and communities experiencing varieties of oppression and the interdisciplinary study of classic and contemporary works of philosophy and theology. At the heart of Boston College’s Jesuit, Catholic identity, PULSE enables undergraduates to develop critical consciousness, to question conventional wisdom, and to learn how to work for a just society by becoming people for and with others. PULSE seeks to form students intellectually, morally, and spiritually as whole persons (curapersonalis) who will take what they learn in PULSE into all dimensions of their lives, in whatever vocations they pursue.

In what follows, we present PULSE as an example of an institutionalized service-learning program anchored to a particular Jesuit, Catholic mission. In this illustrative case study (Hayes, Kyer & Weber, 2015), we will describe and examine PULSE, in the hope of expanding our understanding of the purpose and role of service-learning in a Jesuit, Catholic university. Our examination of the case is guided by the following query, “How does a Jesuit, Catholic university design service-learning programming to accomplish its social justice mission?”

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