By Idalia Wilmoth, Guest Contributor
“Partnerships do not simply deal with our responsibilities to the community or with new challenges of making knowledge relevant. They make us confront questions about the nature of expertise, about disciplinary allegiances, about reward systems, about local applications versus national prominence, and about the uneasy relationship that urban universities maintain with their surrounding communities.”-Linda Silka
In the past several decades, higher education has been challenged to be the call of “positive & vigorous action” to help solve societal problems that threaten stability and viability of the democratic society. Universities have increased their responsibility to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and resources in ways to support urban areas and neighborhoods. Too often urban areas are characterized by poverty, racial separation and isolation that undermines the human and social capital that is essential to restoration of neighborhood, community and the preservation of democratic values (Boyte, 2004;Harkavy,2005).
One way to strengthen university-community partnerships is to align the community with scholarship-focused engagement. Universities as anchor institutions, have become the engines of growth providing enormous resources, especially human resources. It is important that universities know why they exist. According to Fitzgerald, Allen and Roberts, universities exist to generate, apply, preserve, and disseminate knowledge. Through engaged scholarship ,university-community partnerships can focus on creating community-based projects that are both meaningful and sustainable for students and the community.
Shared scholarship and learning through university-community partnerships have had misperceptions of trust and mutual respect in ways that have created communication barriers for both partners to work together. From the university’s perspective, partnerships should involve a level of scholarship whether the partnership involves research, teaching, or service. However, the community wants a partnerships that generates a recipe for success and not a faculty member who approaches the community requesting access to test their research theory or practice. A community partner stated that “the intricate university ballet must meet the down-and-dirty community boogie on the same dance floor, and new steps and a common language must be learned by both partners” (Williams, 1997, p.47).
It is important that universities create a shared commitment and develop innovative responses to community concerns. As an aspiring educational leader, faculty members’ connection to the community has to be more than individual gain. Scholarship-focused partnerships should approach communities to be participants at the table in ways to grow awareness and accept the interconnectedness of community problems. It’s not all about our knowledge, it’s about helping transform life-course pathways for children and families through university-community partnerships.
Fitzgerald, H. E., Allen, A., & Roberts, P. (2010). Campus-community partnerships: Perspectives on engaged research. In Handbook of Engaged Scholarship (pp.5-28). Michigan State University Press.
Idalia Wilmoth is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.