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Democratic Relationships in Service-Learning:
Moving Beyond Traditional Faculty, Student, and Community Partner Roles

Travis Hicks, Liz Seymour, & Allison Puppo

For SLCE to thrive as democratic civic engagement … we recommend that students be encouraged to collaborate as co-leaders with community members, that community members be empowered to identify community priorities and co-lead projects, and that faculty learn to see students and community members as colleagues and to collaborate on projects in non-hierarchical, democratic ways


EXCERPT

Travis directs the Center for Community Engaged Design, where Liz is a community guest and contributor, and Allison is an undergraduate student fellow…. We are all involved in interactions between UNCG and the adjacent Glenwood neighborhood, collaborating particularly on the issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and community development.

We have learned … that democratic relationships among all stakeholders are critical to successful SLCE – being more authentic and more impactful than the all too common relationship between faculty member and community partner in which the faculty member’s expertise serves the community member’s needs…. Our own experience suggests there is great value in collaborations not limited by the usual hierarchies implicit in relationships among faculty, students, and community members…. Our relationships have allowed us to engage with a community that otherwise views the University with skepticism …

For SLCE to thrive as democratic civic engagement, students must be able to be part of initiating projects and not be limited to joining pre-determined projects developed by faculty members …, leadership roles must be assumed by community members …, [and] faculty members must also be willing to play supporting roles …. Ego must give way to make room for collaboration so that democratic ideals truly can be realized for the good of all involved….

Students, community members, and faculty need to … find ways to forge relationships that cannot necessarily be accounted for in traditional ways … so that the perspectives they each bring can be valued and understood through listening. … The implicit boundaries amongst titles, roles, and responsibilities need to be crossed or even dismantled so that each contributor is empowered to be an originator or a follower, a teacher or a student, on any given idea or collaboration.


TRAVIS HICKS (tlhicks@uncg.edu) left a successful career in architecture and interior design five years ago to teach full-time at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An assistant professor of Interior Architecture and director of the Center for Community-Engaged Design, he embraces SLCE, focusing his scholarship and teaching on projects that advance social justice while recognizing conditions related to poverty, degraded environments, access to education resources, and community empowerment. Travis received his master’s degree in architecture from Princeton University.

LIZ SEYMOUR (liz@lizseymourwriting.com) retired in 2014 from her position as the founding executive director of the Interactive Resource Center (a day center for people experiencing homelessness) in Greensboro, NC. A former freelance writer for various design magazines, she made a career change to lead the IRC in 2009 after becoming more intimately involved with Food Not Bombs and the Greensboro homeless community. Liz has a degree in American Studies from Smith College.

ALLISON PUPPO (alpuppo@uncg.edu) is a senior in the Department of Interior Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She will graduate in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Interior Architecture and a minor in Sustainability. As a research fellow at the Center for Community-Engaged Design she has worked on several projects, including the Glenwood Mural Project and the Servant Center. Allie served as an undergraduate research assistant for Teaching Green Buildings and Housing the Homeless.


Interested in reading the full text of this article?  Click here for the full essay.

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4 thoughts on “Democratic Relationships between Students, Community Partners, and Faculty/Staff

  1. Iowa Campus Compact says:

    From the Iowa Nonprofit Summit, our ideas for creating better campus-community partnerships:

    Better awareness and accommodations of time constraints on both sides of partnership.

    An effort to make sure ALL students have opportunities for community engagement, which is critical to future success. Making sure service-learning and community engagement are a priority on all campuses.

    Top-down and bottom-up training on service-learning for all involved.

    More collaboration communications efforts to promote the impact of partnerships and recognize all partners.

    Making community engagement a part of the recruiting and hiring of faculty and staff in higher education.

    Work together to educate students about community impacts and community needs (not just their benefits) and help organizations see the importance of the student learning that can take place (co-education model).

    More easily accessible information on who the best contacts are in higher education across the country for partnerships and online databases of opportunities to partner.

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  2. Lori Kniffin says:

    I think the last line of the excerpt, “The implicit boundaries amongst titles, roles, and responsibilities need to be crossed or even dismantled so that each contributor is empowered to be an originator or a follower, a teacher or a student, on any given idea or collaboration” really charges us to exercise leadership on this challenge. Our systems and structures do not often support the democratic learning we desire. Our work goes beyond “best practices” and calls for us to change the systems that reinforce hierarchies. Thanks to the authors for showing us what this could look like if we move outside our traditional roles.

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  3. lkniffin says:

    I think the last line of the excerpt, “The implicit boundaries amongst titles, roles, and responsibilities need to be crossed or even dismantled so that each contributor is empowered to be an originator or a follower, a teacher or a student, on any given idea or collaboration” calls for us to exercise leadership to change systems of power and hierarchy. Our current structures and systems do not often allow us to implement “best practices” of democratic engagement. We need to move beyond ideals and work to create systems that allow for authentic co-creation- which is not an easy task. Thanks to the authors for bringing this issue to the forefront of the future directions of SLCE.

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  4. Rima Nimri says:

    When working with the public on an issue, the democratic process becomes more viable if the hierarchical structure was heading towards the middle. Top-down (politics) bottom-up (social justice) should come to a common ground when looking into an objective. This helps any administration as though they have those that are experiencing the issue share their experiences and concerns. That way it helps the institution, any institution that has the athority and resources to Allocate them.

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