Ritualized relief: service-learning as the violence of mercy after the 2010 Haitian earthquake

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University of Alabama Libraries

Relief offered by short-term, international volunteers in the wake of a natural disaster hinders community rebuilding despite servers’ good intentions. American college and university student service-learning teams—wherein students serve as a mechanism of learning course goals—arrive in foreign, post-disaster communities intending to carry out volunteer efforts meant to meaningfully contribute to disaster relief. However, this dissertation suggests that short-term, international service is a-contextual and limited to community efforts where outcomes can be standardized and replicated across contexts. Such efforts focus on student learning and individual takeaways rather than a holistic understanding of the disaster and the affected community. A sociocultural documentary analysis of service-learning’s history and the ways in which service-learning educators cloak their efforts in academic respectability helps demonstrate the limitations of service-learning, particularly in short-term contexts in international communities recovering from disaster. Even volunteerism intending to eschew identified problems for post-disaster service-learning, like the Haiti Compact: Higher Ed with Haiti, amplifies outsider voices in relief efforts, decentering the community affected by the disaster and their hopes for rebuilding. Investigating the Haiti Compact’s service-learning experiences demonstrates that no amount of merciful intentions or thoughtful practices can overcome the historical and current pitfalls of short-term, international service-learning. This dissertation concludes by considering the possibility that service-learning might allow for hope of learning in community, if the damage done by short-term, international service-learning were reconsidered.

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Educational philosophy, Curriculum development, Higher education