Viewpoint: When volunteering, students must think of others, not selves

By Amy Heard
Copy Desk Chief

When I sat down at my computer, I was going to write a column on why I think Baylor should require mandatory service from every Baylor student.

I had it all worked out in my head – students would be required to do a certain number of hours each year of undergraduate. The number would not be large – maybe five hours per semester. I even thought that maybe the service requirement could replace one of those semesters of required chapel.

My plan seemed reasonable. Most students I know already volunteer at some point during their college careers, so this requirement would make Baylor look good while giving some students just a little added motivation. Ten hours a year, or five a semester, seemed like enough to get students hooked on serving. If the requirement started freshman year, some students would discover a passion that might have been otherwise delayed.

Then, I thought of a catch. Invariably, even if the requirement was only five hours a semester, a large portion of students would wait until the end of the term to volunteer. This phenomenon already occurs. Students who have service requirements from individual organizations overrun service organizations in the last months of the semester. Too many volunteers means undergraduates standing around, observing instead of participating.

One solution would be to give everyone a different date by which they would have to complete their service hours. Yes, this would mean my service might be “due” in September while my roommate doesn’t have to complete hers until November, but five hours is five hours no matter when it gets done.

The next problem to tackle is the recording of all these hours. We do have a Community Engagement, Service and Scholarship department on campus, but are they prepared to keep track of volunteer hours for almost 13,000 undergraduates? Probably not. The task could be delegated to advisers, but there would have to be accountability and consistency in the way hours were recorded.

My brief attempt at anticipating bureaucratic difficulties led me to consider that some students would end up lying about their service hours. Others might do the service, but begrudgingly. Should this deter a program that might otherwise encourage students to get involved in a life of service?


There is an aspect of service that far too often seems to be ignored or trivialized at Baylor, and that is its impact on those served. Service is not for the benefit of the volunteer. Far too often I hear Baylor students complaining about a service assignment because they “didn’t get enough out of it.” From my perspective, this is the ultimate statement of selfishness.

Volunteering should be about positively impacting those you serve, even if that impact is not immediately visible. What students need to understand is that service can be done wrong. It can be done with condescension (even unwittingly) or resentment.

And this is where the ultimate flaw in a community service requirement lies. Compulsory service strips students of the ability to make a free choice to serve—not for a class, not for a group, but because they want to.

The goal of any such required service is always to encourage participation past the required hours, but the Waco community need not suffer the caprices of a victim-mentality volunteer so Baylor can teach its undergraduates a lesson.

There are other ways to encourage service without stripping it of its meaning. I won’t subject you to my thought experiments any further, but I firmly believe there is a way to increase volunteerism among Baylor students while reducing the sometimes negative impact drive-by volunteers have on local agencies.

Volunteering will make you feel good, make you a better person, and expand your mind vastly, but don’t do it for those reasons.

Volunteer because you have more than the majority of the world, and it’s about time you gave something back.

Amy Heard is a senior English major from San Antonio and is the Lariat’s copy desk chief.