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Community Engagement Basics

What is it and why care

Community engagement has become ever more discussed and valued in recent years. It is also referred to as service learning, civic engagement, and engaged learning. However, all of these terms refer to a specific type of collaboration between someone, in our case student and academia, and a community. We can see the growing investment in community-based work in the increasing number of individuals who conduct research in the larger society on various levels of scholarship, as well as the number of schools that now have specific centers or offices dedicated to such involvement and research. This past year I have further explored what it means to be involved and advocate for such engagement or “publicly engaged academic work”. Timothy Eatman defines this as:

 

As graduate students, we often find ourselves in the unique position in which we have ample opportunities to contribute to this kind of work—to making about, for, and with—but face barriers in higher education in doing so. Some of these might include campus culture, departmental hesitancies, or program limitations. Eatman speaks to similar struggles, “We have produced a system in which, instead of empowering students to do the things they think are important better, we teach them that something else valued by the discipline is what they should go after.” He predicts that for this work to be truly valued across a system or institution we are going to have to redefine what it means to be a scholar. Many community-based projects do generate ground-breaking and intellectual outputs, however, these tend to look different than what we are used to. 

 

A large component of community-engaged work, is the relationships between various community stakeholders. While these relationships are important in generating multiple perspectives and points of expertise, such involvement across the spectrum can actually serve to expand new understandings of engagement rhetoric and work. I would argue that in order to actually shift our view of scholar, these stakeholders are going to play a larger role than we may expect. There will need to be a certain humbling from the university and university players, who often consider themselves experts, to then realize and value the knowledge that local stakeholders are equally generating and contributing. 

BY ANNIE BRINKMAN

Scholarly or creative activity integral to a faculty member’s academic are. It encompasses different forms of making knowledge about,

for, and with diverse publics and communities. Through a coherent, purposeful sequence of activities, it contributes to the public good and yields artifacts of public and intellectual value.

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