Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2


Lives of a Saint

Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
Getting On
George Moore
-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

-Parlor Talk-
-Family Tree-
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress


What Makes Susan Serve?
Susan, a first-semester junior, has never done a stitch of community service. So I'm puzzled when she chooses the most physically and emotionally challenging community placement in a course on religion, ethics, and social practice. To fulfill the course's six-hour-per-week service requirement, Susan goes to work at Our House, an urban homeless shelter for families and single women in Pomona. She is a huge success as an intake counselor and substitute teacher in the various classes required of shelter clients. On one occasion, Susan is asked to take over a class on household budgeting minutes before the session begins. Acknowledging to her "students" that she has never in her life kept a budget, she says: "Let's just figure out how to do it together," and they do. After completing the semester course, Susan continues to volunteer at Our House and revamps her curriculum in order to take psychology courses in preparation for a career in social work.
   What initially motivates Susan, or any of the rest of us, to engage in community service is hard to pin down. Students cite a broad range of factors running from "It will look good on my resume" to "my parents were always volunteering, and it never occurred to me not to." The more interesting question is what sustains people in community service. Susan's experience offers us some clues.
   Susan discovered, as have many others like her, a hidden, deeper self. She came into her own at Our House. Her interaction with the homeless, the staff, and the other volunteers, all grappling together with real issues of consequence, was a process of self-definition. Susan had to exercise sound judgment in assessing the needs and prospects of potential Our House residents; forging effective relations with the homeless called for virtues of character such as courage, truthfulness, and benevolence. And all of this was in a community Susan would not previously have thought to be her own.
   The term "altruism" is misleading here, if it simply connotes selflessness. In fact, Susan developed a greater sense of self, but in a new and more meaningful context. Self-aware rather than self-preoccupied, she took satisfaction from her work and gained a healthy sense of self-respect. Volunteers like Susan frequently describe their service as meeting their own deepest needs, as giving them more than they could possibly give back. They are referring to "internal goods," the pleasures of relationship that come with genuine community and friendship. Here altruism's unselfish interest in the welfare of others makes sense. There is, indeed, an element of self-denial in working with homeless people, or prisoners, or victims of domestic abuse, but it is a denial of that self we know to be superficial, subject to the constantly changing appeals of our consumer society. So it is that many people find community service liberating. Activities and acquisitions that once seemed important lose their attraction; "external goods" such as power, money, and status are no longer compelling.
   Susan's work at Our House also challenged the prominent assumption that personal freedom is the absence of demanding, sometimes painful interpersonal commitments. In working with homeless mothers, fathers, and children, Susan became engaged in a way that she found refreshing, even empowering. In such contexts we clearly can and do make a difference to someone, and if the match is right, our real talents emerge. Thoughtful employers are finding that time off for effective community service results in higher employee morale and creativity on the job. But such engagement, the kind Susan found, also entails vulnerability. In working with homeless families, the mentally ill, or children in poor neighborhood schools, we lay ourselves open to real pain. We cannot simply walk away from our relationship with a child struggling to overcome a three-grade deficit in reading, nor can we abandon the teacher in that child's overcrowded classroom. Surprisingly, perhaps, we no longer want to.
   Finally, Susan's interaction with homeless families enlarged her way of thinking about our society and its injustices. Working with the disadvantaged is an exercise in critical thinking. Once we start to see things from the perspective of the other, we read the newspaper differently, we evaluate our politicians more thoughtfully, and we begin to alter our own priorities. We all know that the gap between the rich and the poor in our nation is widening at an alarming rate. We also realize that some of us have bountiful opportunities to grow and develop, while others, many others, do not. The kind of community service Susan undertook personalizes these questions of justice. It engenders a sense of responsibility for the larger community and often launches us on a collaborative quest for effective political and economic remedies.
   What are the ethical implications we might glean from these brief observations about Susan's experience at Our House and the reports of others involved in community service? It is unlikely that community service can be sustained simply out of duty, a Kantain notion of the categorical imperative, or its more popular version, the Golden Rule. Likewise, a utilitarian stance that appeals to the greatest good for me or even for the greatest number would be hard pressed to withstand the discouraging setbacks faced by any long-term volunteer. What is missing in each of these traditional Western moral philosophies is a framework that articulates the significance of the communities in which service takes place and the mutual interaction among the "servants" and the "served." An adequate philosophy of community service would acknowledge the global extent of our social environment without diminishing the crucial importance of particular communities. In religious terms, it would have a place for our spiritual awareness of the transcendent, the sacred whole present to us in and through the material events of daily life.
   The essential elements for such a moral philosophy are presently at hand, but their convergence requires a cross-disciplinary conversation. Current work in molecular biology and cosmology argues for a single creation narrative and the fundamental interrelatedness of all entities. Fresh appraisals of the Aristotelian tradition of virtue by communitarians and feminist critical theorists suggest that one's personal well-being is bound up with the well-being of all others. Religious insights such as the Buddhist concept of compassion and the Christian idea of incarnation articulate the humility and empowerment that come when we experience the universal in the particular. It is time for these streams of thought to enter into dialogue with one another. When they do, environmentalists and social activists will make common cause, for the planet like the poor, suffers from our exploitation. And the planet is our common ground.
   --Jerry Irish, professor of religious studies

Does it Matter if Students Volunteer?
Why do we like to hear that Pomona students volunteer? Volunteering is nice, and it's good to know our students these days are nice. Can we claim more than niceness?
   Research on the salutary effects of volunteering applauds both youth volunteering and adult volunteering, even as it assesses them differently. Volunteering provides students with formative experiences. Adults donate labor that makes a difference to the organizations they serve. As young adults, college-age volunteers are mature and resourceful enough to be useful, inexperienced and thoughtful enough to learn.
   In the U.S., adult volunteering represents an enormous donation of resources. The major national survey of volunteering, currently rethinking its own estimates because they seem low in comparison with results from regional studies, pegs the number of hours volunteered in 1999 at almost 20 billion. That's the equivalent of about 10 million full-time workers. Roughly one quarter of that time goes to the sorts of faith-based organizations targeted by George W. Bush's fledgling administration to shoulder a bigger share of the country's social service provision. Half of that time goes directly to organizations involved in youth development, education, health or human services.
   Younger volunteers produce less but learn important lessons. Presented with a list of benefits that might have stemmed from the volunteering they had done, more than half the teens in a major study ranked as "very important" five experiences. These were satisfaction found in helping others, learning to "understand," to "be helpful and kind," to "get along with and relate to," and, most frequently, "to respect" people "different than me." Material advantage (e.g. clarifying career goals) and greater understanding of community institutions did not rank as high as these personal lessons about living an engaged life in a diverse world.
   The habit of volunteering seems to stick. One of the strongest predictors of adult volunteering is whether that person volunteered as a youth. Scholars are quick to acknowledge that this link may not be causal. For example, it may be that certain people, those who want to help others and feel empowered to do so, are likely to volunteer at all ages. But even among adults with such predisposing attitudes and enough income to have choices about giving away time, I find that having volunteered as a youth raises the likelihood of volunteering in any given year from 60 to 78 percent.
   Youth volunteering breeds adult volunteering, then, and adult volunteering produces valued services. Quite apart from these tangible results, the very process of engaging in volunteering has been hailed as an asset to society. Major declines in most forms of the "social capital" connecting Americans to one another have been charted across the last 35 years and across cohorts born since 1930. It is theorized that connectedness builds a foundation for the pro-social attitudes--trust is the typical example--necessary to a smoothly functioning democracy. Volunteering has held firm in the face this general downward trend, though we owe much of its stability to those older cohorts who, healthier than earlier generations were in their retirement years, are picking up some of the slack. My own work suggests that the relative importance of volunteering as a form of engagement is substantial. Controlling for age and for several forms of engagement—working, belonging to or being active in a religious congregation, belonging to a secular group of some kind, being married, having gone through college, and volunteering—I find that volunteering is the only form of engagement that is positively associated with expressing both trust in others and compassion for others.
   A college degree is associated with increased expressions of trust but with significantly diminished reports of being motivated by compassion. Happily, the positive effects of volunteering on expressed compassion are much greater than the depressive effects of college. Pomona students who find time to volunteer are good bets to become alumni who trustingly and compassionately bear their added riches in trust for humankind. --Eleanor Brown. professor of economics

The Challenge of Social Responsibility
The stated purpose of a Pomona education is to "prepare students for lives of personal fulfillment and social responsibility in a global context." In the 21st century, the social responsibility part of our purpose will present us with the greatest challenge, for several reasons. First, the gap between the rich and poor, both within countries and globally, continues to grow (the United Nations Development Program recently labeled it "grotesque"). Second, in a knowledge society, education plays an increasingly significant role in separating those who possess the means of pursuing the good life from those who don't. Finally, the very contours of our lives are increasingly shaped by formal rather than vernacular knowledge, yet the resources that are required for the conduct of research and development are even more unequally distributed than income and wealth. In sum, Pomona's very success in providing its students a superior education unwittingly contributes to the global trend toward a more unequal and artificial world designed by and for the affluent.
    In this context, social responsibility requires more than good intentions, but it often finds little institutional support. In research I conducted last year with Judd Legum ('00) on community-oriented programs at local colleges and universities, we observed a number of factors that limit their effectiveness. For one thing, these programs are mostly volunteer options for students, and involve only a few hours per week. The lack of preparation for community work, the limited hours devoted to it, and the absence of material recognition for students (such as academic credit) drive these activities toward the lowest common denominator of basic skills possessed by the student and routine tasks required by the host institution. Volunteering can thus become a matter of "putting in time" (and not very much of it), rather than getting results.
   Another problem is that colleges and universities normally possess far more resources (prestige, human capital, funding) than autonomous communities. Community-oriented programs often turn out to be unequal exchanges that serve academe more than the community. I know a number of cases in which "collaborative studies" between a university and community organization were actually inquiries driven by powerful elites who were keeping tabs on grassroots movements, using supposedly neutral academicians as intermediaries.
   Even when academic-community endeavors are more equal, the partners are almost always established community groups (churches, food banks, environmental groups, civil rights advocates, etc.). I have personally been involved in many projects involving Pomona students with these types of organizations that have been genuinely beneficial for all parties, and arguably for society in general. But what is missing from this picture are the emerging citizen movements that can be the most responsive to the dispossessed and disenfranchised, and whose greatest need is often the knowledge resources required to challenge the status quo. Finally, most community outreach programs focus on service, not research. There is an increasing sense among community scholars and activists that inquiry that originates with a community's articulation of its needs and learning agenda has a greater potential for constructive social change than the provision of services through established channels.
   As in most areas, Pomona College is blessed with a panoply of fine programs that address our social responsibility purposes. These include an ad hoc student-faculty-staff committee that advises the President in his voting on various shareholder resolutions (on issues such as worker rights and environmental quality) for companies in which the College holds stock; a student-run Volunteer Center that organizes thousands of hours of student contributions to worthy causes; the Pomona Partners program that engages our students with college-bound youth from underprivileged backgrounds; and the Program in Public Policy Analysis that I am privileged to direct, in which students complete a half time public affairs internship.
   Nonetheless, the challenges presented by a changing world are escalating, and we can do better. Toward this end, I have been working with community leaders in Pomona who approached me a few years back for help in mobilizing local colleges and universities to provide research support to community groups that need information and analysis to accomplish their objectives. After extensive discussions on campuses and throughout the community, we have decided to establish a community-based research in Pomona.
   The objectives of this center will be:
   1. To promote social improvement in the Pomona Valley through research on community development that is designed to enhance any or all of democracy, social equity, and ecological sustainability.
   2. To enhance educational opportunities for students, faculty and community members through collaboration among them in conducting research.
   3. To develop approaches to research and learning that promote intellectual, cultural and biological diversity by breaking down the barriers between academicians and citizens.
    The basic concept is to establish a place to which citizens can bring their questions, and that will organize student and faculty researchers to help out. While this concept is novel in the United States, "science shops" at Dutch universities with similar purposes were established in the 1970's, and have spread throughout Europe. Likewise, the tradition of participatory action research in Latin America goes back several decades. There is now a movement toward community-based research in North America, including a new Center for Popular Education and Community Research at U.C. Berkeley.
    What kinds of things will be studied? The answer partly depends on what questions the community brings to the center, but topics can range from the role of the Inland Empire in a global economy to research and planning for low income housing, charter schools, and local production for basic needs such as food and electricity.
    Pomona students are already involved, including now-alum Judd Legum, whose senior thesis last year developed a design for the community-based research center. And Pomona is not the only participant. Our sister institution, Harvey Mudd College, has created a pro bono engineering clinic (a year-long senior project for 5-6 students, traditionally completed for a company or government office that pays for the service) to develop the user interface for a community computer network in Pomona.
    From the educational side of this partnership, the key is a balanced relationship. By driving campus inquiries from a social responsibility agenda and practical community needs, we can provide enhanced educational opportunities for our students at the same time that they learn how to get results in a very demanding arena.
   --Richard Worthington, professor of politics and coordinator of the Public Policy Analysis Program