Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Tara L. Parker

Second Advisor

Dwight Giles, Jr.

Third Advisor

Tania D. Mitchell


Service-learning has become deeply embedded in higher education, as both a co-curricular and curricular tool to achieve learning outcomes, promote civic engagement and promote diversity. Yet it has also struggled with the critique that service-learning, unintentionally, reinforces deficit thinking by promoting a dominant narrative centered on the White middle-class perspective. This narrative excludes the experience of students and faculty who reflect the demographics of the community served or who are simultaneously from the community and the institution. This qualitative study seeks to challenge the traditional narrative to understand the service experience of students of color from low-income backgrounds at predominantly White institutions. The counterstories presented here illustrate a broader perspective on the experiences and the impact of community engagement in higher education for those who do not identify as middle-class or White. Using a framework informed by theories of critical race theory, critical border pedagogy and transformational learning, this study explored the impact of a co-curricular service-learning program on academic choices, professional plans, civic identity, and understanding of social change. Community service-learning was found to be instrumental in students’ navigating personal and academic experiences at their institutions. The findings document how community service-learning created an effective counterspace to support the development of a sense of belonging for students of color enrolled at predominantly White institutions and guide their intellectual and social development. Recommendations to create inclusive reflection spaces within co-curricular programs and classrooms, and for more research into civic identity development across identities, impact of community leaders on learning outcomes and the relationship between place and positionality in community engagement are provided.