ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
American University’s Welcome Week consisted of the majority of the entering freshman class taking part in several different programs. This year, the Freshman Service Experience, heralded as a way to give back to the Washington community, charged $115 to each freshman to take part. What is the implication of paying to volunteer? This week, our quick take columnists weigh in.
By Scott Weathers
With the exception of fraternity parties and emergency room rides, my first week at American University felt more like summer camp than college. In an honest effort to integrate me into the AU community, the University encouraged me to sit through speakers exhorting me to “make the most of my opportunities,” adjust to rules governing alcohol and drug use and, among other things, volunteer at a local elementary school through the Freshman Service Experience.
Although community service is certainly a worthwhile use of our time, there are many aspects of FSE that should undergo closer scrutiny. For example, all students participating in the program paid $115, in addition to tuition and housing bills already approaching $60,000 per year.
Avoiding the dubious merit of paying to volunteer, what did this fee buy? Water bottles, t-shirts and memorabilia that surely cut against our school’s instinct to be green. Every extra item created for FSE only expands our carbon emissions, water usage and overall environmental footprint. Although I am supportive of trying to improve our local community, I’m skeptical of contributing to rampant consumerism that degrades our global community in the process.
Even more importantly, I see FSE as a program designed more to fulfill a psychological urge to help, rather than actually help. Simply looking at the total $69,000 of fees paid by freshman (600 freshmen x $115), I think many charities would prefer this massive financial contribution than two days of labor (or for many, sitting around).
One of my favorite charities, called charity: water, can provide clean water to nearly 3,500 people for 20 years for this massive sum of money. Although implementing water projects can be especially costly in certain regions, and keeping the project running can raise costs, the social consequences are clear: we could be saving lives. For nearly 3,500 people, we could eliminate diarrheal deaths, save women and children time retrieving water and reduce the disease burden that makes poverty so crushing for billions.
Although FSE was a fun way to spend my first few days at AU, I didn’t save any lives. I wish as a school, we would make it our responsibility to do just that.
Scott Weathers is a freshman in CAS.
By Taylor Kenkel
American University’s Freshman Service Experience aims to introduce new students to the city through two days of volunteering with local organizations. But is it worthwhile to pay $115 for the privilege to volunteer?
According the FSE website, the $115 participants throw down for the opportunity funds their SmarTrip cards, t-shirts, evening entertainment, “exciting” speakers, one dinner, two breakfasts and supplies for the service sites.
Students who truly can’t afford to participate can request a waiver. Still, 600 participants paying $115 a pop to participate means somewhere in the ballpark of $69,000 is being spent on transportation, food, shirts and entertainment for students along with the leftovers for site supplies.
Don’t get me wrong—encouraging new students to give back to the community is admirable. While the concept of paying to volunteer is questionable in and of itself, FSE seems to fall short in a more important realm: the program places more emphasis on student and personal fulfillment than on helping people and building community during the experience.
By refocusing its implementation, the program could better emphasize the responsibility to help those who need a hand without expecting any sort of reward in return for volunteering. Any personal fulfillment the volunteer in question experiences is an added bonus, but it is not the primary goal of community service.
Instead of spending much of that $115 on throwing an elaborate celebration for students, put it all towards donations to the volunteer sites. Or the University could reduce the fee to the cost of the shirt and the site supply donations. During their college career, students will have plenty of opportunities to grab “free” t-shirts on the Quad and attend speaking events. The D.C. organizations and residents who are supposed to benefit from the interaction? Not so much.
Even though participants might complain about the lack of entertainment, they should understand people aren’t going to throw a party in their honor every time they volunteer, and students should not expect universities or organizations to do so.
The whole FSE experience only includes two days of service. While participants can apply for Eagle Endowment grants to continue any work, only a handful elect to do so. It seems like FSE could also use a bit of reform on the volunteer time allotted front. Instead of limiting the experience to a two-day tiptoe into the world of community assistance, why not turn the program into one that places freshmen at volunteer sites for a few hours on weekends during the first semester? That way, new students could use an extended amount of time to truly do some good for others and potentially gain a deeper understanding of the community at the same time.
When combined with getting rid of all the bells and whistles of FSE, maybe an extended time of volunteering at the sites might help students realize that volunteering isn’t about getting a cool shirt or being able to spruce up your resume. Instead, it should be about building up the community through assistance and kindness.
Taylor Kenkel is a senior in SOC.