Last month, Middlebury faculty, staff, students, and community partners had the opportunity to connect through the Center for Community Engagement’s Winter Term Workshop series “Socially Just Community Engagement”. The workshops, planned by Shannon Lyford and Gabi Cuna from the CCE, focused on three foundational topics related to incorporating social justice and equity concepts into community engagement. By bringing together diverse perspectives, especially those outside of the Middlebury College community, the planners hoped that participants would gain valuable insights into the meaningful work being done throughout Addison County, while building their social justice competencies so that they could move forward in their work with a social justice mindset. Each week during January, the workshops were led by teams composed of a faculty/staff member, a student engaged in community engagement work, and a local community partner. Though the workshops were designed sequentially so that later sessions built on previous concepts, participants could drop into workshops as they desired throughout the month.
The first workshop, which focused on how power & privilege interplay with community engagement was led by Dr. Hector Vila, Jacqueline Qiu, and Anna Freund. With their academic and professional experiences surrounding community connected work, they showcased how some social identities and lived experiences can place individuals in privileged or marginalized positions within our society. The facilitators artfully connected these systems to educational access and quality, food access, and housing stability in our own communities locally, nationally, and globally. After the large group discussion, participants and facilitators broke into small groups to share how they have seen privilege and power play out in their own educational experiences, as well as the organizations where they volunteer or work. One of the discussion questions, which prompted participants to consider “How does where you are influence who you are?” spurred engaging conversations about the kindergarten through college pipeline and access to educational resources across the country. Participants also considered housing and food scarcity, as well as social determinants of health like pollution in low-income communities.
The second workshop, led by Crystal Jones, Priya Nair, and Rostyk Yarovyk, invited participants to reflect on their own social identities and how they shape the ways in which they engage in community based work. The workshop began with an activity led by Crystal which asked participants to consider which identities, if any, they think about most often, which have the greatest impact on the way they perceive themselves, and which of their identities they’d like to learn more about. After, each facilitator led a small group discussion in breakout rooms about how these identities affect how they show up in professional and community settings. Some participants shared that in different contexts, they felt like their different identities became more salient, especially when they considered who they were interacting with. When reflecting on the workshop process, Crystal Jones, the Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion, shared:
I had such an enjoyable time preparing for and facilitating my WTW due to the incredible insights and leadership from Rostyk and Priya. Their willingness to share their experiences with the group encouraged others to do the same and lead to some enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation. There is a great benefit from having more than one facilitator and I saw that in real time during this workshop.Crystal Jones, Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion
The last of the three workshops showcased a panel discussion featuring Pam Berenbaum, Gabriella Chalker, and Rae Donovan, moderated by Diane Munroe. Throughout the session, Diane invited the panelists to share insights based on their different community engagement perspectives. Rae Donovan, who serves as the Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator for the Mount Abraham Unified School District, shared vital insights about the anti-racism community building efforts in the local schools which prompted engaging discussion and questions about the realities of leading social justice and equity work in local communities. Each of the panelists and participants contributed wisdom about how to truly leverage the already existing strengths of communities in a collaborative and ethical way. Pam Berenbaum shared about her experience both planning and leading the workshop:
I enjoyed planning for the workshop as much as the workshop itself. The planning process allowed me to meet and work with people I’d never worked with before (alongside some I already knew) to decide what the most important aspects of strengths-based community engagement are, and how to convey them. I always enjoy the chance to reflect and focus in this way (thanks, CCE). From Rae Donovan, I learned a great new work principle: ‘If your coalition isn’t awkward, then it’s not broad enough’ –brilliant! And the workshop itself was fun and energizing. It was great to see students dedicating part of Winter Term to becoming more engaged, and better engaged, members of the community. That commitment and drive will serve them well for years after leaving the College.Pam Berenbaum, Director of the Global Health Program & Professor of the Practice of Global Health
As one of the planners for the workshop series, it was such a fun experience and I feel grateful for all the community partners, students, faculty, and staff who contributed to the process as participants and as facilitators. I hope that in the future, the insights shared and the connections made will be valuable as folks participate in community building locally and globally.