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Abstract

This qualitative research seeks to understand how students’ experiences in service-learning contribute to their understanding of and commitment to social justice. Sensemaking theory is applied to unpack how students make sense of social justice—expressly, how the service-learning experiences (both community and classroom processes) provide students the opportunity to consider and conceptualize issues of justice. The findings demonstrate that students’ experiences in service-learning facilitated a more complex understanding of and expressed commitment to social justice. Key to this process of social justice sensemaking were six properties: students’ developing understandings of themselves and their role (identity); revisiting and reconsidering their positions (retrospect); connecting to new concepts and understandings that they wished to integrate into their own (referencing); recognizing conflicts between what was expected and what was experienced (contradiction); interacting with others (social); and developing confidence in their understandings, even if they were unsure about the accuracy of meaning (plausibility). These properties also reveal the aspects of a service-learning experience that provide the needed environment to enact social justice sensemaking.