Service Day a vain attempt to impress

The crazy people at the Collegian, the student paper at The University of Tulsa, let me write stuff. This article below was featured in the Feb. 18th issue. (link to article coming soon)

Few people will admit to doing something something good for a bad reason. Many of the University of Tulsa’s students will be participating in Service Day this weekend, but doing so for motives other than simple altruism.

Community service should not be about four hours of work coupled with the promise of free food, a sweatshirt and making oneself look better on paper to employers. It should also not be about making the university look better in the eyes of prospective students and outside groups judging our school.

Many of the students working to make Service Day a success genuinely believe they are making our neighborhood a better place. Unfortunately, other motives exist. My skepticism about the ulterior motives of Service Day comes from two places: my own experience volunteering and the length of Service Day.

In the summer of 2010, I volunteered at the Magic House, a children’s museum, for several reasons. The first was that my lawn care work dies down in the summer as the heat rolls into town.

I did not have a summer job, and I had been told that volunteering at the Magic House was a great way to earn a job the following summer. Other people had used this strategy, and it worked for them. I am clearly not the only person to have volunteered to boost my employment prospects.

Another reason was to put community service hours on my college transcript, something many people do to improve their college applications. If you were not one of the people who did service for the sake of application, and doubt that others do this, just search “community service college application” on Google. A week of community service was required in eighth grade and a month of was called for in the month before graduation.

I did other volunteer work because it sounded like a good—and also fun—thing to do. I have collected cans and been a buddy at the Special Olympics. There are many hardworking volunteers who spend countless hours of their time making the world a better place, but I know most of my community service work was for more for my benefit than for others.

A person preparing for Service Day only commits to four hours of work. In addition, some other organization set it up, as opposed to the person discovering an organization in which he or she already sees value. By finding a service opportunity independently, a person demonstrates a conviction that the organization deserves service time, and often commits to volunteering free time for months, if not years. I cannot help but think of my own volunteer work and compare.

Service Day is too full of people working to get free things, to look better in the eyes of others and convince themselves they have helped the community. I see our university sponsoring this day because it makes the school look better to outsiders. The caring students supposedly help create a nicer community around the school and possibly a safer campus.

The way we think about community service has changed from helping others to helping ourselves by helping others. This should not be the reasons we do a Service Day. In fact, I say Service Day should not exist. Rather, the school should do more work to help students find volunteer work in and around our community whenever possible.