Background/Context: Over the past two decades, more than 200 studies have been published on the effects of community service learning on university students. However, the majority of these studies have focused on the effects of such programming on White and affluent college students, and few have considered whether there are differential effects for participants depending on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. This study considered these differential effects in both the academic and experiential components of such programming.
Participants: This study compared the experiences of 244 White students and 118 students of color participating in a community service learning program at Beacon University (a pseudonym) during the 2008–2009 academic year.
Intervention: The Social Action Program is a community service learning program sponsored by Beacon University’s philosophy department that seeks to educate participating students about social injustice. The academic component of the program is a year-long course that includes interdisciplinary readings from the humanities and social sciences as well as weekly lectures and a discussion section. Participating students also spend 10 hours each week for the entire academic year at one of approximately 50 different service placements focused on antipoverty efforts.
Research Design: Mixed-methods research design involving quantitative analyses (analysis of covariance) of pre-post surveys and qualitative analyses of hour-long semistructured interviews.
Results: Students of color participating in the community service learning program characterized the academic component of the program as offering a weaker sense of community than did their White classmates, and many expressed a reluctance to engage in race discussions with their classmates or to respond to perspectives they perceived as naïve, inaccurate, or offensive.
Conclusions: Even university courses and programming explicitly designed to disrupt White privilege can inadvertently be normed to serve the interests, experiences, and learning goals of White students. Such reification of White privilege comes with a significant cost; the learning of all students is diminished when diverse perspectives are not fully represented or heard.