Bringing It

Bringing It #67: CLDE Reflections and more!

July 23, 2021

Dear friends,

Last month we had the opportunity to participate in the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement virtual conference. We enjoyed this opportunity to learn more about civic-minded education initiatives and to hear from others about their experiences and practices in building engaged learning communities.

Rather than recap six days of learning and conversation, Kelly & Todd share with you reflections on sessions that stood out to them and have stayed in their thoughts over the past few weeks.

CLDE Reflections

Reckoning with Racist Campus Histories
– Student Panel, comprised of three James Madison University Democracy Program Fellow and one UVA undergrad.

A whole conference could be devoted to this topic, and I doubt we’d come out of it with an all-encompassing answer that reveals how to heal and move forward – equitably – out of hundreds of years of racial oppression and disenfranchisement.  2020 was not just a pandemic year, it was also the year when America seemed to begin reckoning with its racist history, taking shape in different towns and cities in different ways across the country.

Living near state universities that have been called upon to rename buildings with racist ties, and only a few miles from a confederate monument that stands before my county’s courthouse (which recently had a protective fence installed around it and is guarded by police at night), I logged into this session excited to hear from the presenters in Virginia about changes occurring on their campus and how they learned to work within their academic community to address racist histories on their campus. I was not surprised to hear the student-presenters share feelings of frustration at how slowly change on campus occurs. I was disheartened to hear that they had felt unsupported by much of their campus leadership as they tried to create a community that was comfortable and welcoming to all students.

I logged onto the session hoping to be inspired by successes from just one state away. And I was, to a degree. But more so, my belief that there is so much more to be done was reaffirmed. During the Q&A, an attendee asked what instructors and administrators could do to help more. The students responded that listening, followed by quick actions in response to the needs and concerns of BIPOC community members, can be the best support. As a white activist working in academia, I realize it can be difficult to decenter ourselves, acknowledge the breadth of the work needing to be done, and to do what is asked of us. But doing just that may be the most impactful way of addressing the racist histories that surround us.

– Kelly, Communications & Public Outreach Coordinator

Partners for Impact: Discussing Community Engagement through Ethnodrama
– Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Associate Professor of Political Science & Director Center for Civic Engagement, and Veronica Matthews, Office Manager of Innovative Education, University of South Florida St. Petersburg

I will admit that I joined this session with a fair bit of skepticism. I worried that having actors portray faculty, students, and community members with the goal of exploring important and complex topics like discrimination, racism, tenure and promotion, and relationship building would fall flat, possibly trivialize the issues, or devolve into an over-the-top dramatic script reading. I also thought of my past work with an LGBTQ+ youth center working with K-12 schools and including youth through a speakers bureau program where they would join me in workshops to share their own stories. How would actors, I wondered, do justice to these important stories?

Thankfully I was wrong on my assumptions and skepticism. Presenters Veronica Matthews and Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan provided a compelling and deeply engaging ethnodrama exploring the complex relationships between universities and community partners. Actors shared the questions and concerns identified through interviews conducted with faculty, students, and community members that were turned into a script. These included the persistent question of “who is truly responsible for this partnership – the university or the community?” It also highlighted the inherent difficulties of developing and sustaining these rewarding yet challenging partnerships by faculty who already face discrimination through student evaluations and promotion committee biases, particularly women and people of color.

This session has stuck with me as an effective way to present complex topics to a more general audience in a way that is both engaging and instructive. I hope more folks who lead workshops and trainings will consider tapping into the wealth of resources of their colleagues and students in acting/theatre programs. And from my standpoint as a BT2P team member, I will be encouraging our grantees and other partners to explore this tool to enhance their current and future work.

– Todd, Program Coordinator

What We’re Reading

Recently, we’ve been emailing with some colleagues about what everyone’s been reading this summer. We’ll be sharing some book recommendations in our next letter, and we want to hear from you, too!

What is a book (or books) you have recently read or are reading that you think others in the BT2P community would be interested in? Since our TWF Podcast is on break for the summer, we’re also wondering what Podcasts you’ve been listening to these days. Send us a note at [email protected] to have your recommendations included in the next Bringing It!

With thanks for everything you do,
David, Kate, Kelly, & Todd