The State of Community Service at Colgate, According to COVE Volunteers

Elisabeth Muehlemann

When talking about the state of community service at Colgate, the two questions we should be asking are what are we doing and how can we do it better? As anyone who is involved with the Max Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) will know, there is a lot of service occurring on campus, and it does not end at the COVE, but extends to all of the groups that COVE teams and staff partner with, including Religious Life, Women’s Studies, International Students, Athletics, LGBTQ Initiatives, Greek Life and ALANA. Through these partnerships, there is work being done in the town of Hamilton, in the city of Utica and in various national and international locations such as Pine Ridge, South Dakota and the Dominican Republic. It is safe to say that the service that students at Colgate do is meaningful, effective and far reaching. However, there is always room for improvement.

There is a strong group of students that consistently do community service, but it is often difficult to draw in and maintain new volunteers. With over 30 COVE teams and multiple days of service throughout the year, there are many opportunities for new students to get involved. The students who are consistently involved often have a stronger sense of place, as they are engaged in the local community and aware of issues that affect both Colgate and the central New York region. If more students became involved with service, it would result in a heightened sense of awareness about local issues which could inform discussion and events that occur on campus.

Student involvement makes Colgate what it is, and the COVE needs students to initiate and participate in service in order for a lasting impact to be made. One challenge that we face is a lack of male involvement in community service activities. While 80 percent of students participate in at least one philanthropic activity in their four years on campus, which is a great statistic, we would like to see people get involved in consistent service that goes beyond one-time experiences.   

Discussions about service experiences and the underlying social issues tht they address often occur at work sites and in settings directly related to the event, but these conversations can and should happen at any time. They not only raise awareness about what work is left to be done but also encourage a self-reflective component that is crucial to the service-learning process. Additionally, if there was more discussion about service work in class and at lectures, the visibility and awareness about local issues would be raised significantly. This dialogue could also increase the number of students that are made aware of opportunities to engage with the community and feel accountable to make a difference locally and globally.

The amount of service that is available at Colgate is impressive and the students that are involved are thoughtful and dedicated, but we can always strive to reach more students as well as deepen both our local and campus community impact.

Contact Elisabeth Muehlemann at

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