“...Educating to Serve”
There is a famous Quaker anecdote which goes something like this: after sitting through almost an hour of silence, a visitor to a Quaker Meeting leans over to the person next to her and says, “When does the service begin?” To which the good Quaker pauses for a moment and then responds with a twinkle in his eye “After the Meeting for Worship!” The befuddled visitor expects the rituals of speaking and singing usually associated with a “religious service,” but the Quaker drolly answers in terms of “service to the community.” This joke (really, it’s uproariously funny in Quakerly circles) is based on the sensibility that actions speak much louder than words. Service in almost any form – education, soup kitchens, blankets, housing, war relief, medical supplies – is a fundamental expression of Quakerliness.
Given our Quaker origins, the tradition of service is deeply embedded
at Haverford College. Working on behalf of real communities tends to ground
students who might otherwise lean toward a too-idealized view of the world
— the “Haverbubble,” as they fondly call it. Several
of my predecessors have addressed this topic. For example, when asked
what would make a Quaker institution any different from an institution
that was not Quaker, Gilbert White, president of the College from 1946
to 1955, responded: “I think…there would be much more emphasis
on doing in contrast to teaching…” Likewise, Hugh Borton,
president from 1957 to ’67, defined the hallmark of Quaker education
as “a certain spiritual dimension, a preparation for life service,
rather than preparation for material success.” What follows is a
brief overview of a few types of service we have fostered in the past
and those we provide today. As you read, I invite you to reflect on your
own experience both at Haverford and beyond.
This attitude changed in the 20th century. A glance at theses provided by Diana Peterson, manuscript librarian and archivist in the Special Collections, reveals that by the 1920s Haverfordians were involved in many varieties of service: work on recreational facilities in Philadelphia; Friends’ work in Mexico; a community program for religious education; settlement music schools; a program for activities in an industrial town; and Boys’ Clubs in Philadelphia, to name but a few. These histories convey an intriguing story about the interests, passions, and connections of Haverfordians called to service both at home and in other countries.
Later, service was the main reason why Haverford granted master’s degrees in 1945 and 1946. Celebrated women graduates of this Relief and Reconstruction program (including good friends Mary Esther Dasenbrock and Marlis Gildemeister) assisted in rebuilding European villages after World War II and other gifts to the re-creation of a peaceful world. Later still, during the 1960s and ’70s, Haverford Professor of Psychology, Douglas Heath, ran a program that enabled students to live in Philadelphia for a semester in order to be able to work in the public schools. And today’s version of this historical thread is Haverford House, headed by Professor Kaye Edwards (see related story, p. 13). This is a post-baccalaureate internship opportunity open to newly graduated Haverford students who want to take a year following graduation to engage in community building and social service in urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Haverford House interns live cooperatively together and, in addition to their agency-sponsored service work, they engage in community building activities within the urban neighborhood in which they live.
Today, more than 60 percent of our students participate in Eighth Dimension, the College’s community service network. Director Marilou Allen states that service is a way to humanize students through contact with real people and their situations, and a way to hone students’ communication skills (i.e. how to express a point of view without always arguing solely from idealism). Under her able care there are programs of almost any type and character, from tutoring, to feeding the homeless, to building housing, to legal services, to Senior Work Day. (For more on this topic see the cover story by Brenna McBride.) Serendipity Day Camp, started in 1984, extends community service beyond the academic year. Haverford students are the senior counselors for this summer program for faculty, staff, and community children between the ages of 6 and 13 years old, who enliven the campus in June and July.
So, what is the point of all of these kinds of service? The point is that service is central to our concept of a liberal education. Not only do we work with our students to expand their intellects and deepen their knowledge, but also to find ways to express their learning concretely. Our alumni/ae are famous for their contributions to their communities, as demonstrated, for example, by the number of students who work in the Peace Corps. This year Haverford College is #8 in the nation for graduates active in the program; since we are a decidedly small place we are decidedly overachievers in the Peace Corps! I am utterly convinced that this union of mind and spirit is one of the most important legacies of Haverford College. When we state the capital campaign theme–“Educating to Lead, Educating to Serve”–we mean it.