Department of Sociology and Anthropology
As a Jesuit, Catholic institution, Holy Cross is steeped in a long tradition of volunteerism. Catholic social teaching emphasizes a preferential option for the poor. The Holy Cross Mission Statement asks students to consider their “special responsibility to the World’s poor and powerless” and calls upon them “to serve others.” Do Holy Cross students live out the school’s mission? How do they do so? What difference does it make, to their communities and their lives?
To answer these questions, we draw on a spring 2007 survey of 312 randomly selected Holy Cross students. The results provide a resounding “yes” to our first question: Holy Cross students are indeed “men and women for others.” Ninety-eight percent of Holy Cross students volunteered in high school, compared to 58 percent of high school students nationally. While at the College, students continue with an extraordinarily high level of community service. Two recent national surveys found that 30-32 percent of college students had performed volunteer service during the previous year. By comparison, in our survey, 68 percent of the respondents were doing a half hour or more of volunteer work per week during the spring term alone; 84 percent had participated in at least one volunteer program while at Holy Cross. And this figure increased with each academic class, so that, at the end of four years, a whopping 96 percent of Holy Cross seniors had done volunteer service during their four years.
The biggest source of volunteer work at Holy Cross, indeed the largest student organization on campus, is Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD). Over half of the survey respondents reported that they had participated in SPUD, a figure that increased from 37 percent of first-year students to 65 percent of fourth-year students. Moreover, for many students, participation was a sustained commitment. Four of five volunteers attended a SPUD program one-to-two hours weekly; over half of upper-class volunteers had served for more than one semester, often in two or more different programs.
In addition to SPUD, students participate in social justice or advocacy organizations such as Pax Christi or Students for Life; they travel to Appalachia or the Gulf Coast during spring break to paint and repair homes and provide other
services; they go abroad in the summer in campus ministry-sponsored programs in Jamaica, Mexico and Kenya. A majority of varsity athletes perform various forms of sports outreach, such as mentoring and helping students with homework, providing clinics and visiting children with special needs. Almost one third of students surveyed had participated in the annual Holy Cross Cares Day, in which 300-400 students, faculty and staff spend time performing service projects such as painting and raking at several sites throughout Worcester. Students also serve the Holy Cross community itself by becoming peer educators who offer programming and peer support on eating disorders, sexual assault, alcohol use and other concerns. A third of the survey respondents reported that they had done volunteer work for the Holy Cross Admissions Office.
Many forms of volunteering increase with each academic class, so that nearly all fourth-year students have done formal volunteer work at Holy Cross before they graduate. We suspect that this increase results primarily from a culture of volunteerism fostered by the religious identity and mission of the College. In the survey, students who had read the Holy Cross Mission Statement were 14 percent more likely to volunteer than those who had not. Students who had discussed the Mission Statement with others in addition to reading it themselves were 25 percent more likely to volunteer than those who had read but not discussed it. Paralleling other research, the Holy Cross survey also showed that students with higher levels of religiosity are more likely to volunteer; women are more likely to volunteer than men; and the higher a student’s GPA, the higher the number of volunteer activities in which he or she participated and the more hours per week devoted to volunteering.
Holy Cross students take their commitment to serving others into their post-graduation lives, with many participating in full-time volunteer or service programs; forty-five graduates from the class of 2007 took this path. The survey asked students how likely they were to do full-time service in an organization such as the Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or Teach for America, and to do volunteer work in their community. Two in five students said that they were likely to do full-time volunteer service; over 90 percent projected that they were likely to volunteer within their community. Even if the latter percentages turn out to be one-half the self-projections, Holy Cross graduates would far exceed the 29 percent volunteer rate among the U.S. adult population.
The Holy Cross Mission Statement asks: “What are our obligations to one another? What is our special responsibility to the world’s poor and powerless?” The survey demonstrates that Holy Cross students take these questions seriously, engaging in service to their community at rates far higher than college students nationally. In living out the Jesuit social tradition, they make a profound impact, on campus, in Worcester, and beyond. Ron Charette, director of the nonprofit South Worcester Neighborhood Center, summed it up: “The types of projects Holy Cross students tackle have deep and lasting effects on the Worcester community. One of the best examples of this is the Big Brother and Sister project launched several years ago with elementary students at Canterbury Street School. By involving freshmen in this program, it crafted a nice and lasting four-year relationship with students from the neighborhood. This served not only to create a true bond, but to inspire these young students to think about a new possibility—attending college.”
For those who want to learn more about the findings from this survey, visit the Web site for the Holy Cross Student Survey: