SLCE Partnering with Social Justice Collectives to Dismantle the Status Quo

Sarah Augustine, Daniela Lopez, Harold McNaron, Elizabeth Starke, & Brian Van Gundy


It can be difficult to implement SLCE courses and projects in ways that explicitly engage with the historical and contemporary systems of oppression – such as racism, classism, and sexism – that created the need for SLCE efforts in the first place. Tania Mitchell (2008) proposed a distinction between “traditional” and “critical” service-learning and suggested that the movement must focus on the latter and thereby challenge the foundational systems that uphold an inequitable status quo rather than risk perpetuating oppression through the former. Our own unit, the Office of Student Leadership and Service (SLS) at Lewis & Clark College, is moving in this direction with our co-curricular SLCE programs, using the framework of critical service-learning as a guide.

Our vision for the future is a radical re-centering of SLCE within social justice collectives (SJCs), such as the organizers of the Movement for Black Lives, led by people from marginalized groups and addressing the systems of oppression most relevant to their own lives. SJCs may be registered nonprofits or non-governmental organizations but are more often, in our experience, unincorporated collaboratives comprised of individuals and groups united around a specific social justice cause. As it has been our experience that SLCE practitioners often rely heavily on nonprofit and school partners to determine the nature of SLCE projects, we are proposing a shift from individual partner organizations to SJCs so that each SLCE effort is firmly situated within a community-verified justice effort. Within this new structure for SLCE, colleges and universities, along with other stakeholders/partners, would follow the leadership of these off-campus collectives working on the frontlines of social justice movements.

While some institutions may already be engaging with SJCs in these ways, we are advocating for a shift in which (a) community partners consist primarily of grassroots social movement leaders from marginalized social groups; (b) academic liaisons follow the lead of those partners, rather than initiating projects themselves or foregrounding their goals for student learning and research; and, (c) a critical equity lens be utilized to assess power dynamics within and outside of community-campus partnerships on an ongoing basis so that harm is reduced and progress made.

Join us in exploring a SJC-centered SLCE that follows the lead of those intersectional people of color-led, women-led, transgender-led, working-class-led and other marginalized group-led collectives working for justice and liberation.

SARAH AUGUSTINE (Augustine_S@heritage.edu) is the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties in the state of Washington and an adjunct professor of Sociology at Heritage University since 2011. Her academic work focuses on community engagement in health decision-making and human rights. She is also the co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF), where she has advocated for Indigenous Peoples whose health and communities are threatened by resource extraction since 2004.

DANIELA LOPEZ (daniela@busfederation.com) is a recent graduate of Lewis & Clark College where she worked at the Student Leadership and Service Office leading service-learning trips and developing programming. Post graduation, she stepped into civic engagement work as a program and communications coordinator at the Alliance for Youth Organizing – a national network of progressive and youth-focused, grass-root organizations. Outside of her work, Daniela finds community in dancing and trying new food carts in Portland, Oregon.

HAROLD MCNARON (haroldmcnaron@lclark.edu) serves as the director of Student Leadership and Service at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. With a passion for social justice, Harold enjoys opportunities to engage with students, nonprofit partners, and other community stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and other liberatory work. To meet the challenges of this work, Harold re-energizes via delicious meals with friends and the music of John & Alice Coltrane.

ELIZABETH STARKE (estarke@lclark.edu) is a graduate student in the Student Affairs Administration MA program at Lewis & Clark College as well as a graduate assistant to the office of Student Rights & Responsibilities. Elizabeth is a lifelong service-learner, and her research interests center around education as a tool toward greater social justice. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys gardening, sharing food with her community, and hiking with her dogs.

BRIAN VAN GUNDY (bvangundy@lclark.edu) is a graduate student in the Student Affairs Administration MA program at Lewis & Clark College as well as a graduate assistant in the Student Leadership and Service office. A first generation student, Brian’s scholarship and practice is focused on increasing access to higher education among students from marginalized communities.

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