Those of us who are guided by equity and identify our research approach as 'community-engaged scholarship' are struck by the ways that COVID has exacerbated long-existing inequities in classrooms, communities, prisons, and churches.
There is nothing equitable or neutral about COVID – we’re all subject to its infectious and sometimes deadly whims.
Extreme circumstances have brought mainstream attention to structural inequality. However, those communities more vulnerable have always been more vulnerable. Over time, systems and institutions have worked to marginalize residents and communities with less funding and resources and by granting less attention and leverage.
“The system is ….doing exactly what it is designed to do, which is to segment land, people, and relationships among them into strata” (Patel, L (2016). Decolonizing educational research. From ownership to answerability. Routledge.)
I am left to wonder how we community-engagement scholars can talk back to inequalities of this moment?
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Maori Scholar, eloquently speaks to the importance of process, in other words the methods and methodology of community engaged scholars (Tuhiwei Smith, L. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies. Research and Indigenous peoples (2nd Ed.) Zed Books).
To those partnering with communities, she notes that process is often far more important than outcomes because “processes are expected to be respectful, to enable people, to heal, and to educate. They are expected to lead one small step further toward self-determination.” Tuhiwai Smith calls out to us to trust in process to address inequities -- to challenge segmenting that results in damage to people, relationships, and land.
The pathway to equity will always be illuminated by the inherent power of respectful self-determination in community-engaged endeavors. In these momentous times, we cannot lose sight of the power of enabling self-determination, healing, and respect as we work alongside community collaborators.
College of Education
Carolyn Colvin is an Associate Professor in the University of Iowa College of Education and a long-time community engagement scholar. Her research focuses on literacy and learning strategies that adult immigrant students use to extend their language learning with English.
Colvin’s 25+ year partnership with the West Liberty Community School District centered on issues of education and literacy for immigrant families has been highlighted in state and national conferences including the Campus Compact Annual Meeting.
She currently chairs the Obermann Center Working Group on Scholarship of Public Engagement.