This study investigated one of the many factors contributing to the sustainability of community engagement efforts at institutions of higher education. Extensive literature shows that burnout and compassion fatigue disproportionately affect those in caring roles and helping professions. Moreover, studies have found significant correlations between levels of burnout and compassion fatigue and the likelihood of human error, which directly affects the safety and long-term outcomes of people within their care. However, there is still limited exploration of how these phenomena may manifest, and similarly, cause unintentional harm to vulnerable populations, in the context of student community engagement efforts. This paper considers the pervasiveness of the college student mental health crisis, particularly amid a year rife with grief and instability co-created by the COVID-19 pandemic and immense socio-political conflict. Participants included 46 college students, and data were collected between March and April 2020 using an anonymous online survey. Results revealed that participants had high compassion satisfaction scores (M=42.19 out of 50) and relatively low burnout (M=21.14 out of 50) and secondary traumatic stress scores (M=22.83 out of 50). Although these results differed from the authors’ original hypotheses, the information presented in this paper calls for further investigation into how students can be supported in ways that minimize compassion fatigue and boost compassion satisfaction.

Katherine Chiu (she/her) earned her Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in Public Health Education and minors in Pre-Medicine and Medical Humanities from James Madison University in 2020. She recently finished working as the Engagement Fellow for Economic and Community Development at Professional & Continuing Education in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Briana Craig (she/her) is a proud alumnus of James Madison University, where she received a M.A. in Psychological Science (quantitative concentration) and a B.S. in Psychology with a statistics minor. She now works as a Research Associate for Westat, a research contracting company based in Rockville, Maryland. Naomi Rabago (she/her/hers) is a senior Social Work major and Service-Learning Coordinator with Community Service-Learning. She has been involved in and held leadership positions in groups all over campus, including Ethical Reasoning in Action, the Alternative Break Program, and the Marching Royal Dukes.

Authors' note

We would like to thank all of the professional staff working in the Community Service-Learning office at James Madison University. Without their guidance, support, and encouragement over the course of several years, this project would not have been possible. We are deeply grateful for their mentorship, and they have inspired us beyond words. We would also like to thank the Virginia Engage Journal editors, Steve Grande and Emily Kohl, for providing thoughtful feedback, engaging in meaningful conversations, and supporting us through our first experience publishing research.



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