Does Serve Day Actually Serve Anyone?
Reported by Elliot Coulter
Serve Day at George Fox University (GFU) has been a part of the student, faculty, and staff experience since 1999. The GFU webpage says David Brandt, president of GFU in 1999, wanted students “to have the opportunity to demonstrate the heart of Jesus Christ.” However, this is not an “opportunity”; it is a requirement.
GFU uses Serve Day to take advantage of having a body of students it can require to do labor. GFU is a Christian university, and Christians are told, in the Bible, to go out and serve others. However, Christian service is not truly Christian if it is required, without giving students the ability to choose to serve the community.
Megan Beam, a current student at GFU, says, “Serve Day at George Fox feels like it is a public relations ploy to make it appear to be a ‘good Christian school.’” She added that “Serve Day misses the heart of Christian service for a cheap substitute that allows students and staff to feel good about themselves without any real commitment.”
Shyloh Summy, a previous student at GFU, agrees: “While I enjoy Serve Day, I would appreciate and respect it much more if the school was more focused on making sure it was actually helpful and less focused on congratulating itself for being so morally upstanding.”
Some students even say their “service” did not seem helpful to the community. A current student at GFU, Cara, said, “The work my group did wasn’t very meaningful.” She added, “I think a lot of people are genuine and want to serve, but the tasks didn’t always meet that goal and they weren’t all for helping the community as a whole.”
Serve Day has even resulted in the injury of some students who were forced to go. Clay Level injured himself at last year’s Serve Day. He was lifting a sink into a dumpster and crushed his finger between the sink and dumpster, losing the tip of his finger. Clay doesn’t blame GFU. He sees it as an accident, and his medical bills were paid for.
However, Clay had some important opinions on Serve Day being forced. He says, “I almost look at it as low-level servitude.” He suggested a different way for GFU to handle Serve Day: “A better alternative would be using the stick instead of using the carrot. [Telling the students], ‘If you do Serve Day, we’ll give you chapel credit.’”
Clay also commented on the fact that Serve Day takes time away from students’ academics and homework time, which is why students attend GFU. He says that if Serve Day were on the Monday or Friday of the first week, it would be manageable, but the fact that it is in the third week means students are busy with upcoming exams, papers, presentations, etc..
GFU has forced students, faculty, and staff to participate in Serve Day for almost 20 years. This “service” is required, unpaid, often unhelpful, and can even result in injury. It also detracts from the reason students attend GFU: their learning. The hope is that GFU will admit Serve Day is a marketing ploy and use students’ time more wisely, maybe even offering credit if students volunteer to serve.