Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)


American Studies


Hannah Rosen

Committee Member

Grey Gundaker

Committee Member

Jamel Donnor


Over the past several decades, service-learning programs have proliferated at colleges and universities, gaining broad support for their incorporation of critical reflection, academic learning, and volunteer work. The stated objective of these programs is transformation, both for students personally and for the communities with which they engage in terms of resources and justice. Through a case study of Fordham University's Global Outreach program, though, I demonstrate that, by positing the emotion empathy as the most productive mechanism through which to radically transform oneself and set off a ripple of social change, university administrators and educators avoid actual structural transformation and instead obscure how service-learning often reaffirms hierarchical and postcolonial relations. I argue that by historicizing the concept of empathy by identifying similar rhetorical devices deployed within service-learning programs in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, colonial legacies of Christian missionary work across time, and the nineteenth-century movement for the abolition of slavery we can better understand the rise of service-learning programs, especially within Jesuit universities, and their promotion of direct encounters with racialized others as the premier mode of gathering authentic and real knowledge that can lead to change. The focus on affective relations between individuals within service learning, I argue, carries forward dynamics that obscure rather than elucidate and attempt to change relations of power that depend on the continuation of systemic, racialized inequities.




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