serving vulnerable populations

serving vulnerable populations

College students should reflect regularly on their service to ensure that they are not harming a vulnerable population.

Service-learning courses often occur in settings in which students work with vulnerable populations, such as children, immigrants, people in impoverished conditions, people with disabilities, and racial/ethnic minorities (Pitkin Derose, Escarce, & Lurie, 2007). Sometimes, students enter a service setting with preexisting stereotypes that can manifest into damaging behaviors (Hunt, 2007). That is why, while students try to help others through their service, they should frequently evaluate their assumptions and the impact of their actions to avoid causing harm.

One way this self-evaluation can be done is through reflection. Students may keep journals, carefully describing their service activities so that they may revisit their social interactions with a careful and critical focus on how the others may have experienced the students’ words or actions (Ballenger, 2009; King, 2004).

Reflecting on a regular basis not only provides a space for students to evaluate their actions (Jarell et al., 2014), but also may shift their focus to social justice concerns (Sleeter, 2000). For example, someone working with refugee children may start to think more about the social inequalities that led to these children’s current condition. This change in perspective may guide students to feel compassion for their population of interest, which tends to make them more competent in working with vulnerable populations (Chen, McAdams-Jones, Tay, & Packer, 2012).

By Despoina Lioliou, Clark University, USA



Ballenger, C. (2009). Puzzling moments, teachable moments: Practicing teacher research in urban classrooms. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Chen, H. C., McAdams-Jones, D., Tay, D. L., & Packer, J. M. (2012). The impact of service-learning on students’ cultural competence. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 7(2), 62-66. doi: 10.1016/j.teln.2011.11.002

Hunt, R. (2007). Service-learning: An eye-opening experience that provokes emotion and challenges stereotypes. Journal of Nursing Education, 46(6), 277-281.

Jarell, K., Ozymy, J., Gallagher, J., Hagler, D., Corral, C., & Hagler, A. (2014). Constructing the foundations for compassionate care: How service-learning affects nursing students’ attitudes towards the poor. Nurse Education in Practice, 14(3), 299-303. doi: 10.1016/j.nepr.2013.11.004

King, J. T. (2004). Service-learning as a site for critical pedagogy: A case of collaboration, caring, and defamiliarization across borders. Journal of Experiential Education, 26(3), 121-137. doi: 10.1177/105382590402600304

Pitkin Derose, K., Escarce, J. J., & Lurie, N. (2007). Immigrants and health care: Sources of vulnerability. Health Affairs, 26(5), 1258-1268. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.26.5.1258

Sleeter, C. E. (2000). Strengthening multicultural education with community-based service learning. In C. O’Grady (Ed.). Integrating service learning and multicultural education in colleges and universities (pp. 263-276). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.