Honors College should require courses fostering community, civic engagement

I have never been more proud to call myself a student of The University of Alabama than I was in the aftermath of the April 27, 2011, tornado. I witnessed an outpouring of support from all corners of campus that broke down traditional divisions and made a genuine difference in the city’s recovery.

And I know that I am not alone. I have heard countless students say their service after the tornado defined their collegiate experience. While the media hype and out-of-state support has largely faded, that potential still exists. The recovery process is far from complete, and other service needs have arisen since the tornado.

Unfortunately, the potential of service remains disconnected from the education of many students. While the University, and in particular the Honors College, has created an impressive array of service-based opportunities, none of them are required for students in most programs at the University.

Students do not have the image of an F4 tornado to remind them of the need for service. If a student isn’t looking for it, he or she could easily graduate without ever fully participating in the giving back to the community that gives the Capstone so much.

Obviously requiring all students to complete a service-learning course would be unfeasible, as many majors lack the flexibility to add another course and some programs would object to the addition. However, the University Honors Program sits in a perfect position to incorporate it into its required curriculum.

From a functional standpoint, the program does not have many required courses for completion, giving it the flexibility to add a service-learning course. Given the wide range of service options already supported by the Honors College, students would not exactly be hurting for options either.

Further, it would help to advance the Honors College’s stated pillar of fostering civic engagement. The University Honors Program has already proven its ability to augment student education through smaller classes and tailored educational experiences.

It only makes sense to take it one step further by ensuring that Honors College students get the most out of their collegiate educations through service learning. Regardless of future plans, community service is a valuable experience that can be applied to any field.

Requiring Honors College students to take a service-learning course would also help to build stronger relationships between the University and the larger Tuscaloosa community. Despite the fact that many in the community dedicate their lives to the University, many students never manage to venture beyond the bars of downtown Tuscaloosa.

It is understandable. Venturing beyond the UA community can be unsettling. However, college is, in part, about venturing outside of one’s comfort zone. Requiring one service-learning course would give honors students that necessary push. In the process, a better relationship can be forged between Tuscaloosa’s citizens and students.

It almost goes without saying that the increase in students serving would be of tremendous benefit to the community. Programs already in place have mentored hundreds of children from elementary through high school, provided thousands of vision screenings, cleaned up tons of tornado debris and assisted in an array of other services. So much more could be done if the interest was expanded.

The tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa brought communities together and taught students the value of service to their community. After three years, most students who witnessed the disaster have graduated, leaving behind a student body that has not shared in that experience.

The Honors College has the opportunity to create a sustained commitment to developing servant leaders, but only if it points them in the right direction.

John Brinkerhoff is the Opinion Editor of the Crimson White.

 

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