It was inspiring to see so many first-year and transfer students choose to come to the F&M campus a week early to take part in community-service activities. They came to participate in Project LAUNCH, in which F&M students mentor ninth-grade students at McCaskey High School, and Putting it Together in the Community (PIT), a program now in its 15th year. The PIT students helped to promote affordable housing, worked with school children, served the elderly, and promoted the availability of clean air and clean water.
I had a chance to speak to both groups at the beginning of their service experiences. It was a lot of fun to talk to them about the tradition of service embodied by Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall, and to welcome them as the newest members of the Franklin & Marshall commitment to making a difference in the community. I discussed with them four main ideas that represent the College’s approach to working with others.
First, we understand ourselves to be, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., embedded within an “inescapable network of mutuality.” It binds human to human, and reminds us that we become most fully ourselves when others become most fully themselves.
Second, we believe that students can have a direct and beneficial impact now, right away, by getting involved in the community, rolling up their sleeves and helping someone else. We don’t believe that well-intended citizens need to wait on the sidelines and watch other people make a difference until they have the credentials to hold a job making society better. Everybody can make a difference—even acting alone—and we all should try.
Third, we integrate research and academic learning with hands-on civic engagement. We try to remind each of our students that the work they’re doing now can enhance their ability to bring to the classroom questions about the causes of the problems they are seeking to address. Students should think about the classroom as the place to develop their minds, their writing ability and their sense of history so that they will bring even more assets to the work of making society better. Not every school is able to place such an emphasis on integrating community service and academic work. It’s one of the distinctive features of Franklin & Marshall, and that commitment is embodied by Professor of Government Susan Dicklitch, who leads our Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
The fourth dimension of F&M’s commitment to civic engagement is maybe the most important of all. As we do the work of contributing to Lancaster and the larger world, we seek to do so with humility and a respect for the dignity and the worth of all those we seek to help. Our goal is not simply to do for others, but to engage in an authentic relationship with others, and to empower those people to be authors of their own destiny. We understand that the communities and cultures of those with whom we engage are full of assets and strengths. Our job is not only to try to be helpful, but to learn about those assets to create an ever more respectful and inclusive society.
I invite you to read more about our first-year students and their commitment to community service in a recent article in The Diplomat.
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Through this blog, I seek both to express the meaning that our community of students, faculty and professional staff make on campus together and also to add a more intimate educator's perspective to the national dialogue on issues affecting college students and alumni. I invite you to share your comments and engage with other readers as we explore issues related to the greatness of youth, life at Franklin & Marshall College, academic excellence, supporting faculty and student research, increasing civic outreach among students, and providing support for students' personal and professional development.
President, Franklin & Marshall College
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