Not long after graduating from college in 2005, I interviewed students on campus about their involvement in community service. All of them said that they spent less time doing community service in college than in high school, and most of them said that they felt disappointed or even guilty that this was the case. All of them had difficulty articulating why this shift had occurred. No one claimed a lack of opportunity or motivation, but two main barriers emerged. The predominant factor was about structuring time (as seems to be the case for most stresses in college life). One student noted that extracurricular activities, even the service-â€‹â€‹oriented ones, tended to be so organized that they required lots of time to participate; it seemed hard to find a service project that didnâ€™t entail a weekly or regular commitment. Some said that social activities within the Christian fellowship consumed most of their scheduled time for extracurricular activities with the unfortunate consequence of squeezing out community service. One student said that he felt schoolwork was so intensive and pervasive that he â€œneeded all the down time he could getâ€ in order to maintain sanity and that, while community service was a good and worthwhile extracurricular, it wasnâ€™t the best way to relax. Time spent with people in the Christian fellowship served a cathartic purpose in helping to de-â€‹â€‹stress with friends, focus on spiritual development, and restore a proper perspective and context for academics. However, even that time was rarely dedicated to service.
It should not come as a surprise that many college students feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction when it comes to the exercise of â€œcompassion.â€ In the university, we become acutely aware of how unaware we are about the worldâ€™s condition and its disparities. We walk through the student center and pass by fundraisers for starving and abused children while on our way to eat buffet-style in dining halls. We pass by flyers about discussions on poverty and structural violence while on our way to formal parties and dinners. We may take on one or two causes with passion, but our knowledge of the worldâ€™s needs easily outstrips and exhausts our available time to do something about it. We feel guilty over not doing or caring â€œenoughâ€ about the throngs of causes and crises crying out for our attention, but when pressed for a response we sheepishly (or angrily) confess that we donâ€™t even know where to begin. What is compassion and what does it mean to live compassionately? [Read more…] about College Christian Humanitarianism: Part 1