At Your Service

Claremont McKenna College is known for its prowess in government and business (amongst many other things), but community service is something that is often put on the back-burner. Graduation requirements do not include any sort of social service; the only obligation students need to graduate are sufficient class credits. Pitzer College, on the other hand, has a strong emphasis on service. One of its four core values is social responsibility, as is shown through its community service requirement. Not only was Pitzer named the 23rd most “service-minded school” in Newsweek’s 2010 college rankings, but its Community Engagement Center was listed in the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Services Honor Roll. Pitzer’s stereotype may not have a work-hard party-hard mentality, but the students definitely serve hard. Janet Schwing, a Pitzer Graduate Coordinator at the Office of the Registrar, believes the requirement “encourages students to provide service to the community with like-minded people and to make contributions outside of oneself.”

In addition to the service requirement, many Pitzer students choose to serve out of genuine interest. “By requiring students to complete community service hours and by making applicants aware of this, Pitzer brings in students who want to make social change and go out and help others,” says CMC sophomore Kevin Seefried.

Pitzer students can fulfill the service requirement in five ways. They have the option of taking a service course, completing a service-based internship, creating a service-based independent study, participating in a service-based study abroad program, or performing a semester of service. An independent study in service, for example, could include courses like “Prisons: Theory, Ethnography and Action” or “Media Arts for Social Justice.” Study abroad programs that involve community service include opportunities in Italy, Nepal, Botswana, and Costa Rica.

Seefried says, “as a CMC student, I feel a bond to the school and the student body because most everyone is goal-driven, looking to succeed, and attached to logical thought. Harvey Mudd students are bonded by a general shared love of engineering and math. Pitzer students bond through a shared commitment to bettering the world, promoting equality, and promoting their beliefs.”

One of the most prominent service organizations at the 5-C's students is Jumpstart, a national non-profit dedicated to giving pre-school students from low-income communities access to educational resources and tools for developing literacy. The organization aims to not only ensure success among the children, but also to encourage families to play an active role in their child's education. Students serve as both mentors and role models by enhancing the social and emotional development of the children. Seefried, a Jumpstart Corps Member, says that it is “one of the rare causes that doesn’t have a political affiliation or counter argument. If you work to better the environment, people might disagree with the way you go about it. If you work for civil rights, someone is bound to comment on whether your work is too ‘in your face’ or not enough so. With Jumpstart, you’re just helping kids learn to read. No one can disagree with that. Rather than trying to limit something large and depressing (like global warming or world hunger), we’re trying to improve something (education). Those other causes are obviously important, but the mindset of Jumpstart is much more fun to be a part of.”

Perhaps CMC students should take a breather from divising how to take over the U.S. government and getting an internship on Wall Street by becoming more involved with service projects. Deborah Lieberman, Jumpstart Site Manager for the Claremont Colleges, emphasizes the importance of community-based learning, saying it “forces students to dig much deeper than a surface level—Pitzer students cannot graduate with a superficial understanding of these complicated issues (power, empowerment, privilege, inequality, social change). You are forced to really take this service to heart.”

Graduation requirements show a school’s values - or lack thereof. It’s quite difficult, however, to compare the value that Pitzer places on social awareness against the value that CMC places on business success. Of course, those CMCers who truly want to do service have ample opportunities around them and do not need a graduation requirement to do good in their community. But the sense of philanthropy might be better encouraged through the expansion of service-based internships and scholarships at CMC.

To their credit, CMC recently created the Center for Civic Engagement. Although no formal plans have been announced, this center is a step in the right direction.  Ana Kakkar wrote a great article about the center and their plans to increase service opportunities at CMC through an alternative spring break, service WOA! trips and other opportunities.

It would be admirable for CMC to add a community service requirement But, one should take into account that one of the great qualities of the 5-Cs is that each school is unique and strong in certain programs (i.e. Scripps’ music program and Pomona’s English program). Is it worth sacrificing the individuality—and in a sense, quirk—of each college for the sake of having five well-rounded schools? Surely the diverse blend of the five is more enticing, and the stark contrast between the competing ideologies of Pitzer and CMC could be praised.