Ask any New Student Advisor and they’ll tell you service is one of the three pillars of the university and a crucial element of UCLA’s mission. Given that sentiment, you would be forgiven for thinking UCLA has consistently demonstrated its support for community service and outreach programs.
In fact, the opposite is true. The UCLA Volunteer Center recently announced it will require students who want to participate in Volunteer Day to register for the event themselves. In addition, student volunteers will only visit 31 locations, fewer than they did last year, because the Volunteer Center is transitioning to a new director.
These major changes to Volunteer Day’s logistics indicate the university’s support for community service is faltering at a time when such outreach efforts are badly needed. UCLA should require all students complete a minimum number of community service hours to graduate, instead of scaling back volunteering efforts and making it harder to help out underserved communities across Southern California. Requiring students to give back before they can earn their degrees can help bridge racial and cultural divides across LA and will allow UCLA to better fulfill its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
At a time when LA is resegregating, when ethnic groups are pushed farther and farther apart due to people’s racial preferences regarding where they live, reducing support for Volunteer Day, an activity that could help bridge the racial divide, seems unthinkable. Even reversing the changes to Volunteer Day seems inadequate. In light of the city’s resegregation problem and growing racial animosity nationwide, UCLA needs to expand volunteering efforts beyond what they were in years past.
Requiring Bruins to complete hours of community service in underserved communities before they graduate would improve race relations. This is backed up by social science, specifically a 1996 study that found volunteering helps foster racial reconciliation. Requiring students complete volunteer hours to graduate and helping them interact with individuals of different races would go a long way toward rebuilding bonds of trust among LA’s increasingly segregated ethnic groups.
Finally, mandating that students complete community service hours in order to graduate will help fulfill UCLA’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion. Though the university’s principles of community state, in unequivocal terms, “diversity is critical to maintaining excellence in all our endeavors,” recent episodes of racial insensitivity, such as former Undergraduate Students Association Council President Danny Siegel’s controversial use of a gang sign and the continued lack of minority representation on campus, belie this noble-sounding statement.
Requiring students to complete community service hours before they graduate could help alleviate this problem by demonstrating UCLA’s commitment to underserved communities and building its name brand within these communities, thus encouraging more high schoolers from underprivileged communities to apply. There is every reason to believe greater community service could build upon recent gains made by the UCLA Black Male Institute’s outreach program to underserved communities, especially considering many of the LA public schools volunteers served in past years have large numbers of minority students.
Not everyone will support a community service requirement, however. Many students would likely have concerns about the practicality of the requirement and the challenges of balancing service and academics. These concerns are understandable, but they aren’t as well-founded as they seem. For example, several schools, including Azusa Pacific University, implemented policies that amount to community service requirements in order for students to graduate. Though a service requirement may be more difficult to implement at a smaller school with fewer resources, a large public university like UCLA has the resources and the infrastructure to make the change.
Additionally, a good number of incoming Bruins are well-acquainted with balancing community service and academics. Peyton Ruiz, a first-year physiological science student, said because community service was emphasized at her high school, she wants to continue that tradition in college.
Some even aren’t concerned at all about a possible community service requirement. Max Harrell, a first-year global studies student, said he thought managing his time wouldn’t be difficult because there isn’t a set amount of work to do.
Furthermore, according to the School Superintendents Association, somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of high schools nationwide now require their students to complete a minimum of community service hours to graduate. And Bruins already dedicate themselves to a wide variety of clubs and organizations, suggesting students would be able to find free time to complete a service requirement.
Although next year will mark Volunteer Day’s 10-year anniversary, there isn’t much to celebrate if UCLA continues to weaken its support for community service and outreach programs. The best way to honor the anniversary would be to expand on Volunteer Day and require UCLA students to complete community service hours before they graduate.
Anything less would be a disservice.