Community-Based Learning & Research Symposium Event Summary
April 6, 2018 | Texas Union Quadrangle Room 3.304 | 9:00am – 3:30pm
On Friday, April 6, 2018, The Longhorn Center for Community Engagement hosted the inaugural Community-Based Learning and Research Symposium at the Texas Union Quadrangle Room from 9:00 – 3:30pm. The original goals of the event were to 1) to create a community of scholars that could share ideas for conducting community-based learning courses and/or research and (2) to share research conducted by UT faculty and graduate students that connects with the needs and priorities of the community beyond the university. To meet these goals, the event consisted of four panels, each on the topic of four pillars: education, health and wellness, housing and affordability, and legal advocacy. Evidenced by the rich dialogue that took place during each panel, as well as during built-in breaks, it is clear the goals of the event were met.
The Symposium opened with welcome remarks from Dr. Suchitra Gururaj, assistant vice president for community engagement in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE), to frame the day followed by two testimonies of scholar activism from Dr. Eric Tang, Associate Professor in the College of Liberal Arts, and Ellie Ezzell, a Master of Public Affairs student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Dr. Gururaj shared the four framing themes that served as the foundation for the questions asked throughout the day: (1) reciprocity, (2) stewarding partnerships, (3) pedagogy and reflection, and (4), research and policy. In the first testimonial, Dr. Tang offered that community engaged scholarship should be pervasive and used as a form of quality control. He also emphasized the importance of asking good questions and reminded audience members of the imperative to interrogate where good questions come from. Ellie Ezzell spoke to the role that engagement between schools, communities, and universities have on schools’ success and distinction at the K-12 level.
The first panel was on the topic of education, consisted of Drs. Jennifer Adair, Joshua Childs, and Terrance Green, in the College of Education. Dr Adair spoke about helping students reframe who the expert is, reminded attendees to think carefully about the work they are uniquely positioned to do, and offered advice on using a variety of outlets to disseminate work, including op-eds. Dr. Childs reminded attendees that there is a lot of work being done to understand social problems, but not as much work on understanding community approaches that are being taken to address them. Dr. Green addressed the fact that reciprocity is not the same as outcome of research, but that it should be embedded in the research design from the start. Dr. Green also mentioned the utility of op-eds to translate research from the “ivory tower” to community interests and priorities.
The health and wellness panel was comprised of Drs. Miyong Kim (School of Nursing), Michele Rountree (Steve Hicks School of Social Work), and Veronica Young (College of Pharmacy). Dr. Kim provided a helpful example to highlight the importance of employing thoughtful action such as treatment resources into research design and proposals. Dr. Rountree shared that incorporating funds to hire a community organizer was essential to projects. Dr. Young recommended reframing community-based research as supporting department/university accreditation standards because that work is engaged in quality improvement of partners. This is standard in the College of Pharmacy.
The second half of the day opened with the housing and affordability panel featuring Drs. Amanda Masino (Huston-Tillotson University), Cal Streeter (Steve Hicks School of Social Work), and Jake Wegmann (School of Architecture). Dr. Masino spoke to the importance of considering the institutional context for tenure and promotion practices when engaging in community-based work. Dr. Streeter shared a helpful classroom technique: when partnering with an organization for a class, he requires that a liaison be appointed from the partnering organization to coordinate with the students. Dr. Wegmann addressed the salience of ethical questions in navigating partisan politics and reiterated his commitment to producing the most honest work possible as an “honest broker” of research.
The legal advocacy panel consisted of Drs. Terrence Allen (Steve Hicks School of Social Work) and Victor Saenz (College of Education), Denise Gilman (School of Law), and Wesley Hartman, who is a student in the School of Law. Dr. Allen discussed the importance of faculty diversity as they key to successful community engagement, and that the researcher should have an “in” in the community organization of interest for strategic cultivation of partnerships. Dr. Saenz offered that his desire is to hold institutions accountable to their public service mission with his work. Denise Gilman informed attendees that community-based learning is part of the law clinic pedagogy and that law students working in the clinic are able to engage in direct representation of clients and gain exposure to systemic issues of injustice. Wesley Hartman discussed the importance of connecting community-based work to professional goals.
The Symposium ended with a discussion of next steps by Dr. Gururaj and Virginia Cumberbatch, director of UT’s Community Engagement Center. Based on faculty interest, the DDCE is happy to facilitate a faculty learning community around community-based learning and research. As well, the Community Engagement Center is in the process of developing a series of Community Exchange Classes, designed to create collaborative learning among UT faculty and students and Austin community partners. To this end, the DDCE seeks interested faculty members who wish to teach within this innovative pedagogical model. Finally, we encourage all faculty to take this survey to express interests for future needs and programming.