Is it cliche to simply say that service learning reinforces existing power relations unless done properly? One of my colleagues is doing a marvelous project with writing and veterans, and in my mind that is the sort of writing that does *not* reinforce the notion that hey, all of us smart college-edjumacated dudes and dudettes have all the answers. How to support him in that process is another story, but what he’s doing speaks to all of the advantages of community partnerships with us academic types – 1) situated writing, 2) liberating (in an individual sense) power of one’s own voice, and 3) creating a supportive environment.
My ideal in my service learning course is to design an environment like the one that my colleague has created. That ideal would involve helping students find a community they want to immerse themselves in, and then setting up a structure that would enable them to succeed. For FYC folks, perhaps video and audio might be useful, as they start to work through mechanical issues. For my far more advanced pro writing 2 writers (who are often graduating seniors), in finding this community they might have difficulty not jumping immediately into their professional community, and while that community might well find some value in writing about their own difficulties, they’re certainly not marginalized.
In any sense (and the actual identity of the class probably lies somewhere in between), setting up some sort of structure that helps them find a writing group could be powerful, even if it’s not an easy task. Asking anyone to set up a community is way beyond the dictates of any class, even if we sometimes underestimate the power of having a facilitator who is also wise in the ways of writing, editing (in its mechanical sense), and encouraging other writers, but stepping into an existing community is probably way too intimidating.