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The Definition of Community: A Student Perspective

Hunter Link, Taylor McNally, Ariel Sayre, Rachel Schmidt, Robert J. Swap


When designing service-learning programs, catch-words like ‘community engagement’ and ‘community partners’ comes to mind. As undergraduate students seeking funding for research-service projects abroad, we are told to work with and through ‘the community’ and to have ‘community-centered’ project design. The dominant rhetoric gives rise to a homogenizing and simplifying view of ‘community’ that is implicit to ‘community engagement’ initiatives. In June 2010, we traveled to Belize on a research grant with the goal of installing slow-sand water filters in a rural community. Our perceptions of ‘community’ profoundly shaped the way we designed and implemented our project, and we quickly found that our initial conception of the ‘community’ was incorrect. We saw that there is a large difference between how the ‘community’ is treated in service-learning discourse and actual on-the-ground realities. This paper offers a unique student perspective on the definition of ‘community.’ We hope that other students will learn from our experiences and that educators will be able to more critically examine how the concept of ‘community’ is presented to students.



service-learning; community engagement; definition of community; student perspective

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Partnerships is sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact, and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ISSN: 1944-1061
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