While welcoming students, faculty, and staff back to campus after a much-needed week of springtime rest, it is typical to get some of the same stories from many of our classmates. In the wake of midterms, many students chose to spend Spring Break vegetating at home, reading books and seeing movies, or heading down south to Miami Beach or wherever-else-Florida to drink on the beach, find a new club each night, and come back sunburned after forgetting to pack sunscreen.
However, there is a (very) select number of students who spent their time off from classes traveling to other countries and volunteering in impoverished communities. These students go on what is called ‘alternative spring breaks’ and they are much more common at Catholic University than at other universities throughout the country. This is something we should be proud of, service is deeply ingrained in CUA, “Faith, Reason, Service” is our motto, after all.
Without discounting the positive experience these students surely had, or the work that they did, we must also consider the motivation behind their participation. Going on a mission trip has gained almost an elite status due to its selectivity and competitiveness. But, sometimes it can be hard to remember that the purpose of these trips is to serve, not “find yourself.”
Understandably, mission trip participants feel good about the work they’ve done, but Instagramming streams of pictures of themselves with impoverished children may send the message that the experience was more for themselves than the people and communities they served.
A majority of students who involve themselves in volunteer work choose the “big-name” service opportunities like missions, Habitat for Humanity and MLK day, which boasted of almost 900 volunteers this year. While Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service provides a great sense of community and often helps students take the first step towards getting involved with service, a large portion of the students who participate in MLK day are required to do so. (And it doesn’t hurt that participants get free breakfast, lunch, and a t-shirt.) The goal behind this day should be to encourage students to seek out opportunities on a more regular basis and with no incentives. Yet, activities like homeless food runs and So Others Might Eat, don’t have a fraction of the number of participants as MLK day.
Now that we’ve all returned to campus, let’s think of ways to serve in our everyday lives, past our inspirational Instagram posts and past our proud LinkedIn updates, let’s try to think of how we can use service to impact our everyday lives. Let’s carry on from MLK day and show up for our community like we did back in January. Let’s wear our shirts from MLK Day of Service not because they were free and we haven’t done laundry in three weeks but because we want to remind others as well ourselves. Let’s ask our friends who went on mission trips what the impact was, and how they plan to carry this impact into their daily lives. Let’s learn from them and open a dialogue within which we can continue to better our community.