Last week, we had the distinct privilege of hosting Patti Clayton here at Lehigh for a few days of professional development workshops.  Delving into day-long exploratory sessions, we discussed a wide range of issues facing the field of service-learning and civic/community engagement (SLCE).  Much of what we discussed focused on understanding and addressing the continuum of service learning and community/civic-engaged work from technocratic (doing service “for”) to democratic (partnering around service “with”).

Lehigh stands at a crossroads in this regard.

That is to say, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us to deepen our partnerships for more meaningful, reciprocal community-engaged learning, teaching, and research.  For years, individual faculty, staff, and students have cultivated relationships with community partners to achieve a variety of different, meaningful research and learning projects.   At the same time, there has been no doubt of feelings cultivated that highlight town-gown tensions and a common complaint of communities residing in proximity of a large research institution: participant fatigue.  We must embark on a new path to further deepen our relationships and trust in the partnerships and projects we have.

To keep us critically thinking, we grapple with the following questions:

  • How do we leverage opportunities to connect for social change?
  • What role do we play in catalyzing projects while also respecting the voice of the community partner?
  • How do we engage in community-engaged learning ethically, meaningfully, and reciprocally?
  • What does true reciprocity look like in partnerships?
  • How do we realize a continuum of service and community-engaged learning while also staying true to our values?

The reason that professional development opportunities such as these are so important is because they help move the conversation forward around the different ways we engage in the community.  It also allows us to build capacity and deep skills in community-engaged research and learning.  In these workshops, we addressed the different aspects of service learning and civic/community engagement, while also focusing on community voice and the importance of building partnerships, not technocratic, top-down relationships.

We also focused quite a bit on the necessity of critical reflection and the ability to develop within us the capacity to question and trouble structures/privileges we might take for granted.  In moving from “for” to “with”, we must always be asking difficult questions about our motivations, needs, and the benefactors of this work.  To articulate that learning, one tool that can be used is the DEAL model created by Sarah Ash and Patti Clayton to describe experiences, examine, and articulate learning.  More about the DEAL model for Critical Reflection can be found in this worksheet from Duke University (created by Dr. Patti Clayton).

The foundation of the CCE is on collaboration, ethics, and impact.  It is in learning sessions like these that we continue to delve into those heady questions and engage in the iterative process of becoming better citizens, better humans.

– SES

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