Community engagement, graduate students, and "naïve complicity": Service in the university

Jonathan S Isaac, Purdue University


This thesis takes issue with current models of community engagement and service learning that do not take into consideration the constraints imposed upon graduate students or short-term instructors who teach a service learning course or who undertake community-oriented research. Bound up in the long history of academic needs overshadowing or entirely neglecting community concerns, campus-community partnerships involving graduate students are much more likely to maintain, to quote Linda Flower, a “naïve complicity in the social structures that put power and prestige on the university side of the ledger while putting passive need and incapacity on the debit, community side” (105). While looking to approximate the work done by long-time scholars entrenched in their communities, this thesis also looks to the infrastructural model of a non-profit organization, College Possible, whose workforce is made up of recent college graduates and whose infrastructure allows it to get a lot out of these team members in a relatively short amount of time. By identifying the organization’s practices that allow it to keep community results and success at the forefront of their practices, and by sharing specific stories that ground these practices in lived experience, this thesis argues for a new practice of short-term service for graduate students that offers them the ability to engage in campus-community partnerships ethically, reflexively, and responsibly. Finally, this thesis looks to a current First-Year Composition classroom taking part in an oral history partnership with a local retirement community. By triangulating the practices in this classroom with the practices of College Possible and the scholarship on service learning and community engagement, we can begin to see what such a model of graduate student-led short-term service would look like in action. This thesis ends by suggesting further areas of inquiry and study for future projects regarding graduate students and service learning or community engagement partnerships.




Dilger, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Pedagogy|Higher education

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