Black students in community service-learning: Critical reflections about self and identity

Marcine C Pickron-Davis, University of Pennsylvania


This ethnography studied the dialogue of action and interaction (Spindler & Spindler, 1987) of Black students as participants in community service-learning coursework. This research was an interpretative study of 13 Black undergraduate students and their experiences as participants in coursework that integrates community service projects as part of the curriculum. The study focused on the particular experiences of these Black students as they negotiated their in-class and service project activities during the 1997 Summer and Fall semesters. Employing multiple methods, data was collected through, participant observation, focus group interviews, fieldnotes, and informal and formal interviews. The findings from this study are significant since current research and evaluations on the service-learning experiences of students in higher education have relied on quantitative methods for measuring outcomes and there is an absence of literature that includes the particular voices and perspectives of Black college students. Through the lens of subjectivity, these Black students revealed the complexities of race, class, and identity that informed their experiences in the classroom and in the community. Their particular challenges and successes were examined as they navigated their dual identities in the public spaces of the mainstream classroom culture and the culture of the urban school communities. The major findings of this research were: (1) there was an absence of critical sustained dialogue on race, racism, and cultural difference in community service-learning; (2) Black students responded with self-silencing when implicit or explicit references to race talk arose in class; (3) Black students found themselves navigating dual identities as members in the classroom and as volunteers in the community; and (4) Black students developed cultural competence to bridge the cultural differences they encountered in a predominantly Black community around race, language, and identity. This study contributed to the service-learning literature by placing students' subjectivity as a framework in the construction of theory, research, and practice. The findings are informative for service-learning practitioners who should prepare students to be culturally competent whether they share similar or different racial and/or class identities with the members of the communities served.

Subject Area

Higher education|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Pickron-Davis, Marcine C, "Black students in community service-learning: Critical reflections about self and identity" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9937775.