Community Members on SLCE Partnerships
Compiled by Patti H. Clayton
This blog post will be a bit different than the others in this series, less an essay and more a compilation of ideas relevant to thinking about and enacting SLCE as co-inquiry as given voice to by partners who primarily locate themselves within communities rather than on campuses. This is the best way we have right now to tap the voices of community members for this series, at least on this one topic. It is not enough in order for this series to live out the principle of co-creation among all partners in SLCE—rarely do even those of us who are deeply committed to co- roles and identities enact this principle sufficiently—but it is perhaps a step. So let’s listen to what community members have to say about SLCE partnerships.
Amy Mondloch, then-Director of the Grassroots Leadership College, writes about SLCE partnerships from the perspective of her organization in a chapter in the 2009 book The Unheard Voices: Community Organizations and Service Learning (edited by Randy Stoecker & Elizabeth Tryon, with Amy Hilgendorf; pp. 136-137 excerpted here).
It all comes down to one motto: “Everyone a learner, everyone a teacher, everyone a leader.” That’s it. That’s the radical view of the world that changes how community works and shuffles the balance of power. It gives service learners ownership of their work and an opportunity to really engage as members of the community — not just college students who may be new to the place in which they now live — and sparks the creative nature of community members. … Starting from [that] motto, the GLC begins every service relationship with the understanding that we will teach the learner some skills. We will share some ideas and experiences. We’ll also have some opportunities to open ourselves to learning new skills and to grow from the ideas and experiences of the learner…. It’s just that easy and just that hard…. When we remember this, great things happen. When we forget, we all lose.
Marie Sandy & Barbara Holland conducted focus groups in 2006 with 99 long-term SLCE community partners in California. Published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, the write-up of the study includes quotes from community partners about SLCE partnerships, examples of which follow:
- I think a great partnership is when you stop saying MY students. They’re OUR students. What are OUR needs? We share these things in common, so let’s go for it.
- What we’re learning to do, whether we’re students or whether we’re a non-profit, is doing something that is actually moving us as a community.
- If you’re just going to do an event, and another event and a project, a project, a project, it doesn’t feel like you’re connecting the dots. You’re not growing anything … I think you only get sustainability when you’re building relationships and there’s a certain humanity to the whole thing.
- I see it not just as we’re getting those wonderful volunteers, but we have an opportunity to train and influence and sensitize people to deal with the issues the clients of our agency face. It can influence their family relationships, it’s going to influence their career choices, and it is maybe going to help them deal differently with people they meet on the street.
An Engaging Communities and Campuses summit was held in 2002 to gather perspectives of community leaders on partnerships with higher education institutions. The monograph “Building Partnerships with College Campuses: Community Perspectives” (produced by Sally Leiderman, Andrew Furco, Jennifer Zapf, and Megan Goss) documents the findings from the summit (excerpted here), including the lists expressed here in table format:
Most summit participants said their primary goal for engaging with campuses through [SLCE] is to play a role in developing a next generation of citizens who understand and can promote needed change. Though many said that they justify their organization’s involvement in terms of the hours, services, and products that students provide, this is not the primary reason for getting involved or remaining involved over time. The partners were clear to say that if the partnerships are not aimed at the goal of civic education, then the time commitment, actual staff costs, and organizational demands placed on them would be less justifiable.
- Significant Findings in Campus-Community Engagement: Community Partner Perspective. Article in the Journal for Civic Commitment, distilled from Sean Creighton’s dissertation.
- Achieving the Promise of Authentic Community-Higher Education Partnerships: Community Partners Speak Out! Report from a 2006 Community Partner Summit.
- Community-Higher Education Partnerships. Compilation of key literature related to SLCE partnerships produced by Portland State University.
In a project Patti is undertaking with SLCE colleagues who have been or currently are deeply embedded within communities (Kathleen Edwards, Barbara Harrison, Stacey Muse, and Brandon Whitney), the following questions about community-campus partnerships repeatedly surface. Not at all resolved, they may serve as an appropriate call for your thoughts.
What are our best metaphors for multi-sector engagement work, especially partnerships that include higher education institutions? Are we really building bridges or spanning boundaries? It is clear that partners need not—perhaps often do not—come to engagement as either “community” or “campus” but rather as individuals and organizations deeply committed to larger public purposes. At the same time it seems that the individuals, organizations, and institutions that are a part of broader communities beyond the academy also have—and should be seen to have–their own distinctiveness, their own systems, their own unique contributions. We find helpful models from complexity thinking and from ecology, which posit both intricate interconnections among parts and wholes and a fluidity that problematizes the notion of fixed boundaries. Seen in this way, how can we most generatively conceptualize what we are doing in partnership work as we interact within and across spaces that are in some ways distinct and in some ways parts of larger, encompassing wholes? Rather than spanning boundaries are we blurring lines? Crossing semi-permeable membranes? Doing something else entirely? What metaphors best help us see, challenge, and move beyond the hierarchies and dichotomies that diminish the possibilities of democratic engagement?
Note: This is the eighth in a series of blog posts. Check in regularly to learn more about and contribute to discussion of foundational knowledge, promising practices, helpful resources, and future directions of SLCE.