Student organizations looking to do community service abroad during spring break may face tighter regulations on their volunteer-work this year.
In recent years, students have criticized campus groups like Reach Out for running service trips to foreign countries that focus more on tourism and leisure than on direct advocacy. As a response to these critiques, Dwight Hall has released a set of regulations governing the organization of service trips led by seven of its member organizations. The new regulations, which Dwight Hall has called a “Code of Conduct,” require trip leaders to schedule volunteer-work for approximately half of all daylight hours and ban students from carrying out clinical medical service abroad.
“Ethical considerations tend to fall to the wayside during some service projects,” Yvette Odu ’14, a Dwight Hall member who helped draft the new rules, said in an email. “The issue of students performing medical tasks that they are not trained to perform or engaging with [the] population in a way that is detrimental is part of what I believe is largely a failure in communicating what is appropriate behavior in an international context and as a representative of Yale University and what is not.”
Each year, Yale students travel on roughly 16 service trips affiliated with Dwight Hall, 10 of which are organized through Reach Out, said Teresa Logue ’15, the international network membership coordinator for Dwight Hall. Around half of the trips held in the past would probably fail to meet these new standards, Logue said.
Logue and Odu did not identify any Yale service trips in which students performed clinical care or other direct medical tasks, but Logue said service trips hosted by groups not affiliated with Yale have allowed undergraduates to assist with performing pap smears in Central America in the past.
Members of Reach Out, which organizes annual summer and spring break service trips, expressed skepticism at regulations such as the minimum time requirement but said their past trips would have complied with most of the new requirements such as those related to medical care.
Under the new regulations, trip leaders will be required to attend mandatory trainings on safety, health and risk management hosted by Dwight Hall in collaboration with the Center for International and Professional Experience.
“These are student-organized trips as you know and they are not run under the auspices of CIPE,” said Jane Edwards, dean of international and professional experience. “With any student-organized trip, what we would want to do is everything we can to make sure students manage these trips with as much regards to health and safety and ethical issues of traveling to someone else’s community.”
Service trip groups that follow the new regulations will be eligible for subsidies of up to $1,000, Logue said. While the funding is significant for smaller groups, Logue said it makes little impact on a large organization like Reach Out, which serves around 100 participants annually, she said. She added that Dwight Hall will not be liable for groups that drop their Dwight Hall membership following the implementation of the new regulations.
Aobo Guo ’15, co-president of Reach Out, said service trips often appeal to students because they contain an opportunity for tourism.
“One of the biggest appeals of doing service abroad is allowing people to experience what the foreign country is like,” Guo said. “I think if you’re doing 6 hours of service a day on average, it’s hard to get a grasp on the what the country is like outside your service project.”
Some service efforts such as teaching may not benefit from complying with a minimum time-requirement, said Mehdi Lazrak ’14, a Reach Out board member. Service trip members could not teach children for six straight hours, because he said children cannot learn effectively for such a lengthy time period.
Dwight Hall is prepared to make exceptions on certain regulations such as the time requirement, Logue said. Still, Logue said she felt a teaching trip she attended — a 2012 trip to Peru with Yale’s chapter of Nourish, a nonprofit which aids community development projects — did not make any significant impact abroad because the teaching was not substantial or sustained.
Josh Barrett ’15, who led a medical service trip to Panama last year through Reach Out, said he believes his trip would have met the minimum time-requirement and restrictions against performing clinical care.
“It’s definitely not going to hurt that Dwight Hall is getting more involved,” Barrett said. “[Reach Out has] a pretty minimal board, like 10 people managing like 10 trips, so it wouldn’t hurt to have more help.”
Reach Out currently has seven board members.