Lately there have been discussions regarding the Butler Volunteer Services Center [VSC], and word is that one of the possibilities being contemplated is closing it sometime this summer. If this happens, we find it to be unacceptable, because community service is an integral part of college education and the college experience. If this doesn’t happen, then we take this opportunity to praise and acknowledge one of the lesser-appreciated centers on campus that we tend to take for granted.
Closing the VSC would go precisely against what the University should stand for. It would send the wrong message: volunteerism isn’t important enough to have an independently funded and run center of its own.
The VSC was established in 1989 and modeled after Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service. Centers like Haas and the VSC were created with the innovative idea of connecting schoolwork with community service, bringing together faculty and students to research and better their communities.
In effect, dozens of students take part in the VSC’s activities every year, totaling around 18,000 hours of community service work, according to the VSC’s website. The VSC engages in training student leaders in service, connecting students and student organizations with local service agencies and linking classroom work with practical work, among other things.
This will most likely be lost if the VSC is closed.
If the VSC were incorporated into another office, like the Smith-Tucker Involvement Center (a.k.a. the STIC), the importance of volunteerism will be devalued and watered down to be just a mere section of student involvement. As a part of another organization, volunteering activities would probably be under-funded or mismanaged, becoming just another of the many groups already under the STIC’s jurisdiction (like Hurricane Productions, SAFAC and the Elections Commission). This isn’t to say that the STIC is an ineffective manager of the services it provides. However, if UM is truly committed to public service, it should maintain volunteering activities as a separate organization.
The VSC already has a small, unobtrusive office to start off with. And yet, this office is always full of helpful people, information, opportunities and, if nothing else, objects that make any student feel happy and welcome, like colorful pillows, beanbag chairs and hand-drawn posters and thank you notes. What will happen to these dedicated people (who work long hours and often seven days a week) and to their overflowing bulletin boards and friendly knick-knacks if the VSC is closed?
The VSC is essential to UM. The activities it sponsors like Funday, A Week for Life, Alternative Spring Break, Kids and Culture and Up ‘Til Dawn are fulfilling experiences that make the average UM student a better person. They raise awareness about issues like mental illness, AIDS and poverty – important problems that, as privileged students, we often forget about.
It’s after volunteering in, say, Hurricanes Help the Hometown, that we gain a little perspective and return to our dorms realizing how petty and unimportant the latest Abercrombie fashion and the newest Mazda convertible really are.