National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2016).


Copyright © 2016 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Recent research has empirically demonstrated that young adults today are different from prior generations in their decreased empathy, increased narcissism, and decreased civic engagement. The formative years of young adulthood are a critical period for the development of civic values and civil ideologies, a time when college-age adults need to acquire the experiences and skills to decenter and develop into civic-minded stewards of their communities. Engagement in service learning with individuals unlike themselves, i.e., outgroup members, is the approach we have taken at the University of North Florida to encourage this decentering through service learning engagement with refugees embedded in an honors colloquium during students’ first term in college.

We took a three-pronged approach to the assessment of the impact of this service learning engagement. In the first approach, evaluations of student responses to open-ended questions provided evidence of a reduction in their self-centeredness and increases in social empathy and multicultural competence. The second approach confirmed these changes in decentering by showing that honors students who were engaged in more interactive service projects with refugees scored higher on two measures of empathy—i.e., the Basic Empathy Scale Basic Empathy Scale ( Jolliffe & Farrington) and the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (Spreng et al.)—than did students engaged in less interactive service projects with refugees. In the final approach, evaluations of artifacts from the course suggested that levels of decentering, empathy, and civic action differed for students who had intensive versus superficial interactions with refugees.