By Robert Maynor, MA ’17
The typical narrative of volunteerism is of privileged people donating their time and/or resources to underprivileged people. Regardless of whether the service is a canned food drive, a mission trip to a developing country, or a weekly reading appointment with school children, the line of thinking is generally the same: we have so much, they have so little. This automatically assumes an inherent lack in the people being served, and puts volunteers in a savior-like position of power, thus widening the gap volunteerism supposedly intends to close. But what if community service wasn’t something that privileged people did for underprivileged people? What if it was simply something people did with other people?
Honors Engaged is not a volunteer project. Mainly because it isn’t voluntary—it is a first-year requirement of every Honors College student. Additionally, rather than fixating on perceived needs and a binary relationship structure, it seeks to facilitate meaningful, sustained engagement with the Charleston community—learning, working, and living alongside our neighbors. This is achieved by partnering with seventeen community-based organizations working on critical matters of deep import to the Charleston community, such as literacy, housing and food insecurity, and psychosocial well-being. This offers students a wide range of options to work alongside community members on projects that matter throughout their entire freshman year. Students could find themselves in an urban garden with third-graders at Mitchell Elementary, implementing real-life science lessons and discussing sustainable food production with The Green Heart Project; mentoring middle-schoolers at Allegro Charter School of Music; or joining veterans on therapeutic sails in the Charleston harbor with Veterans on Deck.
Honors Engaged is not service in a vacuum. The project encourages self-reflection and a healthy analyzation of civic society: What is my role in the community? Why is service necessary? What do I get out of service? What sociopolitical factors influence individual experiences? In addition to on-site engagement, students attend diversity workshops, complete project proposals outlining how they plan to contribute to their assigned project, and participate in dynamic conversations with peers and project liaisons, upper-level students with project-specific knowledge and experience.
“Honors Engaged provides all students in the Honors College the opportunity to become deeply engaged in a city they have most likely never been in before, rooting them in their surroundings,” says CofC Honors senior Morgan Seidel ’19. Morgan began working with Kids on Point as a freshman with Honors Engaged. She served as a project liaison for two years and is now the Academic Success Coordinator for Kids on Point. “Unlike typical volunteer experiences, Honors Engaged allows students to analyze, critique, and grow.”
Honors Engaged is not a resume builder. It’s not a publicity stunt. It is a reciprocal relationship between the Honors College and the Charleston community. It exists because honors students recognize their own potential, as well as the potential of their community. They dedicate themselves to their projects, and they realize that growth doesn’t occur exclusively in the classroom, but in the world as well—that the community has as much to offer students as students have to offer the community.