Building a Pathway to Cultural Competence Through Academic Service Learning
By: Alvin Evans and Edna Chun, DM
As colleges and universities seek to prepare students for professional careers in a diverse, global society, the attainment of cultural competence is an essential capacity that can no longer be overlooked. Cultural competence involves the awareness, knowledge, and skills needed to engage and collaborate meaningfully across differences through interactions that are characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and respect. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), for example, has recognized the importance of global competence as part of a coherent approach to general education requirements. The AAC&U’s General Education Maps and Markers initiative emphasizes global engagement and the enhancement of cultural awareness that promotes the potential for students’ active citizenship and greater career fulfillment.
Service learning provides an important bridge to cultural competence in the undergraduate experience. Yet it is often viewed as a co-curricular activity, to be pursued outside the classroom and at the student’s own initiative. By contrast, course-based, academic service learning is a form of experiential education that takes place in credit-bearing courses guided by faculty. It is part of the academic curriculum in which structured activities in the community give rise to reflective activities, such as in journals, discussions, and papers. Such curricula can have significant diversity-related outcomes, such as increased understanding of social stratification, privilege, and the impact of differential access to opportunity.