Students pitch in across the nation

by Rachel Osterman | 11/21/00 6:00am

Time is money. Or at least that is what the clich says. But for an increasing number of students at Dartmouth and beyond, time is volunteering.

With more than 44 percent of the student body involved with the Tucker Foundation in some way -- and 30 percent of students included in the "hard core" category -- the College has seen a surge of interest in community service that has helped change Dartmouth's commitment to and perception of volunteerism.

Notably, the new involvement in community service at Dartmouth corresponds with national trends. With more high schools across the country requiring some amount of service for graduation, and with a proliferation of volunteer outlets nationwide, more young people than ever are working without pay.

And that has made a difference at Dartmouth.

"Students are now coming here already having been involved in community service, wanting to be involved in community service and expecting the institution to be involved in community service," said Director of Community Service Jan Tarjan.

With about twice as many students involved in Tucker now compared to 10 years ago, a variety of factors, in addition to students arriving at the College with prior service experience, have contributed to the jump in volunteer activity.

For many, service has been and continues to be a strong component of their faith backgrounds. Others feel a level of social responsibility. And others, such as some members of Greek organizations, volunteer because they are required to do so.

"It's become something people just do," explained Mia Hockett '99, who works as the volunteer coordinator at Tucker.

Leading the popularity contest among community service activities are one-on-one mentoring programs with school children. A close second is housing and rehabilitation projects such as those run by Habitat for Humanity. Also widespread now are group mentoring programs, such as those that visit housing projects and public schools.

In addition, a variety of venues have emerged as new favorites. Spring break projects have become increasingly popular. Whereas three years ago Tucker offered only two trips between the Winter and Spring terms, this year there are 10 -- and there is still more demand than available space.

Off-term programs have similarly enjoyed a rise in interest. While it is, of course, impossible to measure just how many students did and do volunteer work when not taking classes, a steadily increasing number apply for Tucker Fellowships. For the upcoming term, 20 people applied for seven fellowships.

"Choosing was heartbreaking," said Tarjan. "Once someone has the motivation to do it, has sought out all the information, has gone through the whole interview process, you can be sure they're pretty qualified."

But what is also striking at Dartmouth is that community service is the campus' main forum for taking action.

At an institution that has seen little organized protest since the anti-Apartheid demonstrations of the 1980s, volunteerism has emerged as a popular substitute for other varieties of social movements.

"We puzzle over it," Tarjan said. "Students tell us that community service seems more objective. They're worried about being 'all talk, and no action' and they're not sure the political process really satisfies."

Still, some types of activism are a part of campus life, albeit in a less pronounced form. Diversity groups, Amnesty International and such programming as Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week do qualify as activism.

But community service is by far the most prevalent means of taking action.

"It's a kind of vicious cycle that discourages activism," Tarjan said.