University President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg recently chaired an American Jewish Committee task force that issued a report urging young adults to commit a year of their lives to public service.
Although some members of the task force lobbied to make mandatory service a recommendation, the final report proposes a system of voluntary service, Trachtenberg said.
“It should be something you want to do, not something you have to do,” said Trachtenberg, who is now a professor of public service. “I’m in favor of voluntary service.”
Trachtenberg’s position is reflected in the AJC report.
“Because this country has never had such a program for domestic service and no compulsory universal military draft (as opposed to lottery) in more than sixty years, we believe the country is neither ready nor willing – for philosophical as well as pragmatic reasons – to accept a mandatory system,” the report stated.
The report lays out recommendations for a national service initiative, designed for 18 to 25-year-olds, that is “voluntary but universally available.” The outlined program aims to attract at least one million participants each year.
Trachtenberg and the task force are now working to publicize its report, which was issued Aug. 22 after a year of consideration.
“The first step is to get people to talk about this issue,” said Trachtenberg, who is trying to get the report into the hands of “issue people . molders of public opinion.”
Trachtenberg added that although the report is not a GW specific initiative. The University is a logical place to continue the discussion “because our students tend to be predisposed to service.”
“We’d love it if the candidates would pick up the discussion,” he said. “The AJC doesn’t see this as a Jewish issue, they see it as an American issue.”
Rebecca Coggins, a senior, knows firsthand how service can benefit the individual and society. She worked in the Peace Corps’s Office of Domestic Programs and as a program assistant for the Fellows/USA program, a Peace Corps program that helps former Peace Corps volunteers attend graduate school.
“These kinds of experiences can really open the eyes of young people who have not yet been exposed to communities or people that are so desperately in need of help,” Coggins said.
Coggins, who plans to serve in the Peace Corps after she graduates from GW, thinks service “can help young adults develop a better understanding of both the local and global community.”
“These volunteers really are making a difference in communities across the globe,” she said.
Michelle Flash, a sophomore, is involved with a local tutoring program in D.C. and plans to participate in a Peace Corps program next summer in Africa.
She is skeptical that a yearlong voluntary service program would increase overall participation in volunteer activities.
Flash said it would be easier to increase participation in spring break and summer programs, such as those that helped in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. However, many GW students are engaged in other activities like internships and would not want to forfeit their time for a year, she said.
“A lot of people would view (a yearlong program) as a wasted year,” Flash said. “The people you get to do it for a year are going to be the people that do it for the rest of their lives.”