“Service learning is used to characterise education endeavours, from volunteer and community service projects to field studies and internship programmes” (Furco, 1996). It connects young people to the community through real-life and challenging situations (ASLER, 1994). Sigmon (1979) views service learning as providers and recipients benefitting from the service activities and experience gained.
The report provides an overview of the project 8 Nottingham Trent University students studying criminology completed alongside the International Community Centre of Nottingham. The project helps in understanding what the International Community Centre offers and to attain constructive outcomes in relation to social issues being the elderly, youths, students and single parents. It provides how the project links to criminology, an evaluation of the experience and what was learnt about the issue.
Describe the experience
The project undertaken was to re-invent the purpose and rebrand the International Community Centre – otherwise known as the ICC and a branch of the YMCA – through methods of advertisement, particularly a re-launch event. The ICC expresses their “passion for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility which are compassed by all of our programmes” (YMCA, 2019). The ICC provides rooms for groups in the community. According to Homeless Link (2018) there are 4,751 people sleeping rough in England and youths in Nottingham, 75% of mental illness starts before the age of 18 (The Guardian Labs, 2017) which could benefit from the help of the YMCA. The demographics chosen to form the project were the elderly, youths, single parents and students facing issues like loneliness, mental health and financial difficulties. The ICC aims to “develop the mind, body and spirit of individuals, families and communities, and improve health and wellbeing for all” (YMCA).
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Being a communications strategy group, a questionnaire was made for other NTU students to respond to where the results were analysed to find what works best in achieving the aims of the project. As seen in appendix 1 the most popular name was CORE. The process taken to further the support for such issues included an action plan, research, contact between the group and different organisations such as Age.uk, a survey collecting 30 responses, website designs, new advertisements such as posters, information regarding the relaunch event and what would make it a success, a progress report to the YMCA finalising our proposals and finally, a group reflection on the experience.
Evaluate the experience
According to Ash and Clayton (2009:27), reflection is vital to generate, deepen and document learning. The groups knowledge around the topic was very limited at the start of the project and a lot of research had to be done to understand the goal of reducing the issue. As seen in this report, the structure of DEAL (Ash & Clayton, 2009) is used. This being description, evaluation and articulation of learning. Throughout the project, the group focused on the action part of the project like the launch event although, a lot of time was spent deciding what we were going to suggest to the YMCA to promote them and help the community. This frustrated a lot of group members due to lack in communication.
When we did our survey and writing to organisations, questions were thought about ethically as well as checked thoroughly by a lecturer before sending them out. A consent form was attached to the survey so individual’s completing the questionnaire knew its intent. Lee (1993) states how specific emotions can be triggered through insensitive research. This can cause effects on personal life and the personal security of the researcher. The group had to consider other people’s lives, for example being a single parent, a re-offender or a student who is suffering with a mental health problem. We put our experience together from previous projects to create questions that avoided being insensitive.
The issues that face the elderly, students, youths and single parents can be linked to Rock’s (2010) work who talks of the “emergence or re-emergence of a public criminology” (2010:751). Buraway (2005) stated, “make visible the invisible, to make the private public”. Linking this to the social issues the four demographics face and through my experience, individuals speaking out about such issues particularly mental health, it raises awareness and produces a way of reducing them. Goffman (1963) states that stigma is “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” that reduces someone “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” The public’s perception on these issues can relate to how there is a variation between the relationship of social knowledge and public action regarding getting justice (Wacquant, 2010:439). Regarding the project, some people do not acquaint themselves with these other demographics and therefore will not help with their social issues. The social issues different groups of people in society face are becoming normalised. Social and crime issues should not just be understood but to have a difference made and ‘bring about change’. Beyond criminology where wider social and political issues are set about creating the conditions for crime and social harms to burgeon. These being homelessness, health and service provisions for example (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000).
The group faced multiple problems throughout the process of the project including what service learning is and how it links with criminology which was very frustrating with every student, the size of the group, communication and work not being completed equally. At first, we were put into a group of 8 people and found it difficult to spread work evenly between each other. Tuckman’s group development stages were used to keep track of where us as a group were at and how the project was developing. His five stages included forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. These stages range from communicating, to building relationships, finding roles within the group, gathering momentum and completing work and finally, performing to a better standard. For much of the project, the group was stuck at ‘norming’ although as it got closer to the proposal and presentation we began to adjourn. This was achieved in meeting regularly and collaborating through social media. For the presentation the group split into four smaller groups and were allocated a demographic in which we researched around our partner organisation and came up with ways of helping each demographic’s possible issues through using the ICC. After several practices, the presentation was thought to have gone very well and as a group, we pulled through and achieved it to the best possible outcome. As a group, we took a participatory action approach like how Elden and Chisholm (1993) define as where a “research process is carried out in collaboration with those who experience the problem.” The ICC were supportive of each demographic chosen and how it could link them to it promoting who they are. As well, it relates to how we contacted other organisations who deal with these issues daily.
The social disorganisation theory by Chicago school of criminology looks at the contact between communities and how crime comes from the outside of a person by factors such as poverty, unemployment and family disruption (Shaw & McKay, 1942). The Chicago Area Project looked at empowering neighbourhoods and to “help ameliorate the conditions that result in high rates of delinquency” (Uggen & Inderbitzin, 2010:735). Similarly, the ‘victimised’ actor model shows how society is unequal which can generate crime. Hopkins-Burke (2013:186) stated how “the actions of the rich and powerful are simply ignored or not defined as criminal,” whereas the ‘actions and behaviour of the poor are usually those that are criminalised.’ Becker (1967) and Carrabine’s ideas can relate this through the idea of ‘hierarchy of credibility’ and unequal societies. For example, this links the comparison between how people are treated for being a single parent or not.
The strain theory supports how poverty can impact community’s crime rates due to the lack of employment. Unemployment leads to people fulfilling their own financial needs through crime if unable to be done in a pro-socially way (Merton, 1957). The ICC can help in tackling social issues to try and diminish them. Our actions helped to raise awareness about the “identified community needs” such as loneliness, boredom, and disability before proposing these ideas to our partner. Service learning as a pedagogy can have many interpretations whereby “service combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both” (Honnet and Poulson, 1989) and is a general understanding in service learning literature.
Articulate learning from the experience
Critical reflection is described as “an activity during which we challenge the validity and appropriateness of our assumptions and beliefs within our present context” (Mezirow, 1990). An important part of service learning is reflecting on actions to provide context and meaning and in this case would be the project undertaken (Butin, 2003:1677). “Reflection is a mental activity that builds a bridge between the human inner world of ideas, and the outside world of experience” (Hinchey, 2004). Reflecting on the project allows me to see what went well and what could be improved for if to do it again. The term ‘public criminology’ assimilates how criminology is used in the interests of marginal publics, empower ordinary publics against powerful interests, the interests of human rights and social justice and to seek practical and beneficial change (Carrabine et al, 2000). Public criminology and service learning both have mutual benefits. This being co-learning and dialogue (Sigmon, 1979). Uggen and Inderbitzin (2010) states how public criminology aims to show the gap between public perceptions and evidence on issues of public concern. This links to the stigma attached to each demographic.
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Service learning and criminology did not have a distinct connection at the beginning of the module however, it is now seen that there is a clear link. Third sector organisations help in reducing crime, helping people in difficult situations and helping them with any issues affecting them. It helps to demolish any stereotypes in society for example criminalisation of the poor and child poverty. Public criminology explains how criminology links with the public through four main divisions, this by presenting findings in an accessible manner. These are professional, policy, critical and public (Loader and Sparks, 2011). As seen in appendix 3, the zone of transition helps in analysing the lack of community cohesion correlating with high crime rates. The issues discussed within the project will not be solved by just gaining the support of the YMCA but is an underlying problem of the government and what they could do to solve situations like homelessness and poverty. The learning gained from the issue has seen how there is a difference between supporting individuals with these issues compared with solving them. Having a launch event would boost awareness and peoples concern about society which would later lead to ‘social change’ being the change of the public’s attitudes, behaviours and relations.
Service learning and critical reflection is described as “any carefully monitored service experience in which a student has intentional learning goals and reflects actively on what he or she is learning throughout the experience” (National Society for Experiential Education, 1994). Throughout the experience, I learnt about the partner organisation and their mission in Nottingham realising the depth of such issues that link to the different demographics in society. I have found there is more to demographics and their identities which has caused me to change my pre-assumptions regarding how society lives, and the problems people may be facing. Seeing the connection between criminology and service learning through the social issues it has motivated me to look more into the problem and find that a launch event would be beneficial. To re-do this project, I would meet with the partner organisation and personally look around the ICC building and contact more charities to find information that would benefit the group. I would allocate work to each group member to make the workload even. O’Hara (2001) stated, “students are empowered when they realise how their knowledge in a subject area can benefit the community at large and that they themselves can benefit society.” Through my own experience, I was achieved personal satisfaction and gained a sense of accomplishment for what I had contributed (Astin et al, 2000). By the end of the project I have a better understanding of the organisational communication concepts. By completing presentations, I have also gained confidence in myself for future reference compared to prior the experience (O’Hara, 2001). The knowledge I have gained during the experience has given me an insight into the ‘real world’ and I can now apply it to future situations.
Service learning has bettered my understanding of not just myself and the issue but of my own values, beliefs and assumptions. I link myself to all four of the demographics through family and friends making this personally significant. By this, I found it easier to relate my own feelings to these individuals “creating a shared identity” (Gilchrist, 2010). Service learning increases students’ awareness of the community and its needs, helps change stereotypical beliefs, reduces ethnocentrism, and increases understanding of social and cultural diversity (Matthews, 1999).
By each group member being motivated to find research and specific issues people face, our assumptions changed concerning these views. At first, I assumed people would speak out about certain issues although a lot of people find it difficult to express opinions. When everybody’s research came together it was not soon until we realised how big of a problem these issues are which began to change my presupposition of the matter. It was difficult to find specific statistics such as young people facing homelessness and the most recent ones which made it harder to analyse; although, issues like loneliness, difficulties in socialising and poverty cover all of society and not just in the four demographics chosen. Social issues are not just social but economic as well. This links to social disorganisation where some students or young people for example tend to leave school early or growing up in neighbourhood that has a low probability of attending university. As well, abuse of alcohol and drugs can be common for some groups in society causing such issues. Factors like these have changed the way I think and how I believe these problems in society come about. By reflecting on past beliefs, it has allowed me to re-examine my knowledge, beliefs and experience. Sampson and Groves (1989) stated “low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility, and family disruption lead to community social disorganization.”
My experience has challenged me to learn more about myself than I originally thought. From understanding who the YMCA are and their mission, to understanding the link between criminology and service learning as Sigmon (1979) describes it. The connection between groups in society and relating issues has made me see how the YMCA can support individuals. Reflecting on my experience using Ash and Clayton’s (2009) work has allowed me grasp the idea of why it is important to reflect on the project and evaluate why it was useful. This project has provided skills and knowledge which now can be used in the future.
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- Appendix 1: Re-name
- Appendix 2: Sigmon
- Appendix 3: Zones of transition
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