September 27, 2010
Fostering a lasting sense of duty and commitment to service comes from engaging our student population in rewarding and impactful community service. Such opportunities are hardly achievable when offered in a congested Volunteer Day filled with arbitrary activities.
The second annual Volunteer Day dispersed 5,000 new UCLA students, as well as some representatives from other strata of the university, throughout Los Angeles County. The event, a manifestation of Chancellor Gene Block and the Volunteer Center’s vision of students engaging in public service, was a significant improvement from its predecessor.
Still, Volunteer Day has a long way to go before being successful.
This board maintains that engaging students in community service is not achieved by a brigade of 5,000 volunteers. While it is an impressive publicity move, the effect that this enormous endeavor makes in one day is less impressive.
Painting beach shacks and picking up trash at Point Dume are necessary for maintenance and are requested by the locations students serve, but they are less conducive to committing students to public service. The tasks are arbitrary and have little meaning to new students, many of whom are unacquainted with Los Angeles. There is no dialogue with the community and its residents. There is no engagement beyond the task assigned. We wonder if any students know who even benefits from their efforts.
Being forced to complete such tasks ends up being more of a chore than a dutiful service. Although the Center does not call Volunteer Day mandatory, new freshmen and transfer students generally have the opposite impression.
Resident assistants in the dorms are instructed to refrain from revealing the event’s voluntary nature and the Office of Residential Life’s Welcome Week posters frame it as mandatory. Such a push for students to participate does not foster the commitment to service that Block envisions.
A sense of duty to the community does not come as readily as figuring out class locations and making friends during Welcome Week. Thus, this board praises the proposal to have a follow-up event in January.
Another change that organizers should consider is expanding the pool of volunteers to include all students and not just new students. While fewer new students may participate, there will be a number of upperclassmen whose enthusiasm for service would be a welcome benefit to all.
Volunteer Day was founded upon a noble principle, but to be successful, its organizers must move away from using sheer numbers to garner publicity and move toward building a desire to serve through meaningful activities.