Author Lawrence Ross led a lecture centered around educating students on how to better approach community service in a way that creates a more positive environment for both the volunteer and the group in need Wednesday evening in the Student Union Theater titled “Beyond Community Service: Respecting and Understanding Communities of Color.”
Ross has written six books, including bestseller “The Divine Nine: the History of African American Fraternities and Sororities.” Ross himself was a member of fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, one of America’s African American fraternities. Ross graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and went on to graduate with an MFA from UCLA. Ross is an established lecturer and has spoken at over 300 colleges and universities across America.
Ross began by explaining that how you view the community you are serving is very important. He then went over a few important questions one must ask themselves about their community service, including: “what assumptions do you bring to your volunteerism,” “do you know anything about the community you are trying to serve” and “are you doing more harm than good?”
“A lot of times, we do community service wrong… particularly when we go into communities of color,” Ross said.
Ross used the high school he attended, Loyola High School in Los Angeles, California, which integrates over 150 hours of community service into its curriculum, as an example of how community service can sometimes be problematic. He explained that many students look at their service and think of how it impacted themselves rather than how it impacted the people being helped. He stressed that it is important to go back to where you volunteered and ask how your service impacted them as a community.
Throughout his lecture, Ross stressed how one can do community service “without messing up.” One of the key features was his acronym R.E.S.P.E.C.T. which explains his approach to community service. It stands for respect, education, skill set, patience, empathy, culture and training.
Ross highlighted inadequate reasons for wanting to do community service, such as trying to make yourself look good to others, resume building, to have pictures of yourself doing good deeds to post on social media, or to prove that you’re not racist. Above all, Ross said the worst reason is believing that “communities of color lack intrinsic values versus intrinsic resources.”
When you are volunteering, it is important to have the right set of morals, Ross said. It has to be something you genuinely want to do to better the world and communities around you, and you must realize that these communities are not beneath you, they just simply do not have adequate resources or opportunities. If there is biased and systemic racism behind your motives, you are doing it wrong.
Another key takeaway from the lecture was understanding privilege: who has it, who doesn’t and how we can use our privilege to uplift those without privilege. Ross explained that you cannot think you are better than them.
It is also important to note that there is a difference between volunteerism and voluntourism. Volunteerism includes service, learning and reflection. It is beneficial to both the volunteer and the community, and creates a lasting positive impact. “Voluntourism” is when someone volunteers once or twice and misses the point, thus failing to make any kind of actual impact.
“If you go somewhere just once, that is not genuine,” Ross said. “When you invest your time with them, you will build up that trust and mutual respect.”
Ross’ final words of wisdom? “Bring something impactful to the community… learn from the people of color… grow, challenge, adapt and evolve ourselves.”
Community service is a huge part of college for many people, and this lecture was very powerful in showing how so many people are volunteering for the wrong reasons. For anyone who volunteers, it is important to be sure we actively understand and respect the communities we enter to create more positive results through service.
The lecture provided a lot of insight for the students in attendance.
“I learned a lot about understanding privilege… you have to understand your privilege and the community you’re going into,” Marissa Morris, a fifth-semester special education major said. “I learned that relationships are definitely the most important aspect of community service.”
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.