Illinois instructors examine anti-racist approaches in service learning

4/28/2023 2:04:31 PM Hannah Wirth

We CU Community Engaged Scholars (We CU), the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OVCDEI), and Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI) recently collaborated to host a webinar, Challenging Racism in Service Learning: Integrating an Anti-Racist Approach. Attracting attendees from nearly 50 units and 12 colleges across the Illinois campus, this engaging webinar explored how racism and social injustice can emerge in service learning classrooms and service work. Presentation slides and a video recording are available.

During the webinar, Director of Curriculum Development and Education at OVCDEI, Ross Wantland, and We CU Student Support Coordinator Margarita Garcia Rojas addressed a series of questions with participants and discussed ways to minimize racism in volunteer and service work.

Prof. Ann Abbott shared her experience with a service learning course she has been teaching since 2004, the learning she herself had to experience to develop effective active learning techniques, and the importance of being intentional about her own whiteness. “I’m not standing up in front of the classroom discussing racism with my students, I’m giving them activities, I’m telling them what to do, I’m giving them information, they have to work with it, there’s an outcome they need,” explained Abbott. “I want to be a model to my students and being anti-racist isn’t just talking about other races. It’s about your own race too; and if you’re white, it’s talking about whiteness.”

Attendees were assigned to breakout rooms to more intimately discuss how classroom service learning practices can promote racism, their responsibility as educators to address racial inequity through community-engaged teaching, and how to encourage humility and reflection among students. This portion of the workshop is not included in the video recording.

Successful implementation of anti-racist practices in service-learning classrooms and service work is a learned skill that requires time, effort, and commitment. Following the breakout discussions, attendees shared some of the major challenges they have encountered in service learning, strategies they have found useful, and the resources needed to overcome barriers and actualize these strategies in their classrooms. Participants discussed the difficulty in balancing their obligations as faculty members and instructors, the growing need for teaching assistants to help with logistics and community partner relations, as well as an increasing need for support from campus and external funding.

Challenging racism at Illinois
The We CU Community Engaged Scholars program partners with local organizations to promote positive change in our community and create impactful learning experiences for Illinois students. We CU and the Community Learning Lab assist service learning instructors by providing connections to local community organizations, project matching, consultations on course design, mini grants for students, and training for both instructors and students. Contact Margarita Garcia Rojas with questions and complete this form if you are interested in these services for a Fall 2023 course.

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion aims to lead and foster collaborations that substantively increase inclusivity in all areas of university life, facilitate access to our university’s knowledge and resources through synergies that benefit both the local community and the state, and fulfill the university’s mandated compliance responsibilities. The office offers many resources to support the campus community. You may also contact Ross Wantland for questions related to this workshop.

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IHSI supports health science and innovation research communities, hosts events, shares news, and identifies opportunities to keep our many partners connected. Subscribe to the IHSI e-newsletter to learn more about core activities and services, education programs, workshops, partnership opportunities, and more.