The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Service with nothing more than a smile

UW-Eau Claire prides itself on the amount and variety of service its students participate in each semester. To facilitate this, the university provides many opportunities for students to give their time, energy, and intellect.

As students head out each semester to undertake their various service-learning experiences, I ask that they consider the
following ideas.

First, service should be conducted in the “spirit of service.” The giving of time and energy to serve a worthy cause is an essential part of the college experience.

Many service-learning opportunities are linked to course grades, student clubs and organizations, intercultural immersions, student teaching and graduation.

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However, students should never lose sight of the notion of giving one’s time for free. The primary objective is to provide the highest quality, reliable and caring support to people in need.

In the minds of students, this reality should trump requirements for grades.

Second, service should meet the needs of the people whom the student intends to serve; not the student’s personal needs.


Students should listen to the wishes of the people they are working with to learn how best to help them. Sometimes well-meaning students approach service focused on teaching math concepts, for example, when in fact their mentees would rather work on conversational language skills.

Service should be as close to unconditional as possible. To this end I suggest that the student embrace a willingness to listen before he or she goes to work in any service setting.

Third, service is something that one does with people, not to them or for them.

Students who participate in service should ask themselves if they see the people that they are working with as equals. If the answer is “no” then maybe he or she is not ready to serve, or maybe they are interested in service to serve their own needs.

As a student willing to serve, one should never go into a community with a deficit-based mind set.

Students may do this subconsciously, therefore one needs to look for the signs of this by asking a few questions:  Do you feel that part of your service is to help the people you are working with become more like you, or think more like you?

Do you feel “sorry” for the people you are working with?

Do you feel that nothing you learn from your service relationships will inspire positive changes in your attitudes, values, and/or actions?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then there is reason for concern that your service may fall short.

Similarly, I suggest to students that it is a mistake to use service to others as a way to transmit one’s religious viewpoints. Genuine service and missionary work on behalf of any religion are not one and the same, at least not at Eau Claire.

Social service is not a vehicle for proselytizing. Those who serve seek to offer assistance and support with few or no conditions and, certainly, not by exacting as a fee the acceptance of a particular cast of religious ideas.

In service-based partnerships it is often true that one party in the relationship is in great need of the offered support.

Due to this power dynamic, often the person (or persons) who have accepted the service offerings of another will feel coerced to accept whatever conditions are placed on them in exchange for the service, either overtly stated or covertly implied.

This is the case when religious offerings are in any way a part of a service-based relationship. This subtle but real pressure negatively affects the dynamic of the working relationship by oppressing, devaluing, and silencing the people with whom one seeks to build positive meaningful relationships.

Under no circumstance should religious acceptance be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for service, either stated or implied.

In addition to providing the needed support, an equally
important goal of service is to widen one’s own horizons and broaden one’s understandings of the world.

When students are unwilling to discard or suspend their “single story” idea about history, social class, race, privilege, and religion, one’s ability to grow while serving others is significantly impaired.

This in turn sets up the potential for deficit-based thinking that paves the way for offensive behaviors, as the server initiates the serving relationship believing that he or she has come to the relationship already knowing the “truth” or the “right way.”

This is, at best, condescending and, at worst, deeply offensive.

I truly admire all the hard work UW-Eau Claire students do in the name of service.

Their efforts have had a positive impact on countless youths and families. Evidence for this is easy to find.

Please, keep up the good work, but take a moment to think about the reasons why we serve.

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Service with nothing more than a smile