"The Problem is That Puerto Rico Does Not Have a Say"

Students' Critical Reflections on Service-Learning in Post-Maria Puerto Rico


  • Dee Ann Sherwood Western Michigan University http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9548-6784
  • Karen VanDeusen Western Michigan University
  • Mioara Diaconu Western Michigan University
  • Courtney Jones Western Michigan University




service learning, environmental justice, Puerto Rico, critical theory, trauma, resilience, disaster social work


This study explored the reflections of graduate social work students from a public university in the Midwest region of the continental United States, following a service-learning course in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The course linked academic study and civic engagement through organized service with Proyecto ENLACE, a public corporation that unites eight communities and twelve grassroots organizations located along the estuary banks of the El Caño Martín Peña. Nine students and two faculty members repaired and painted a community center building. Faculty facilitated opportunities for critical reflection on the dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression in the context of working with communities during the reconstruction phase of the disaster. Students met with Puerto Rican community members and social workers to learn about their experiences and perspectives. Qualitative analyses of a student focus group revealed themes in students’ learning processes, students' perceptions of trauma and resilience among community members and disaster relief workers, environmental justice in Puerto Rico, and the increased visibility of macro-level practice opportunities. We recommend critical reflection as a valuable pedagogical tool for social work education and requisite for skill development and transfer learning.

Author Biography

Dee Ann Sherwood, Western Michigan University

Dee Ann Sherwood, MSW, MPA, PhD WMU School of Social Work Grand Rapids MSW Program Coordinator


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