Professors Garcia-Gievarra and Santana in the hallway at WSU

Worcester State faculty members among editors of a new book on anti-racist community engagement

September 20, 2023
By: Nancy Sheehan

A new book, with major editing contributions by two Worcester State faculty members, aims to promote anti-racist values both within and beyond college and university campuses.

Christina Santana (English) and Aldo Garcia-Guevara (history and political science) were among an eight-member academic team that edited Anti-racist Community Engagement: Principles and Practices (Campus Compact, 2023), a book that tackles the critical issue of exemplifying anti-racist values in higher education’s community engagement efforts.

A virtual national book launch will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 21 and will feature an introduction to the book and lightning talks from some of the authors.

The John J. Binienda Center for Civic Engagement will host an event in the faculty lounge in the Sullivan Academic Center in recognition of the book’s publication Sept. 29, with a breakfast at 8:30 a.m. followed by a book discussion at 9 a.m. “We hope to have faculty, staff, and students talk about a chapter that resonated with them and what its meaning was to them,” Garcia-Guevara said.

book cover

The cover of the book

The editors say the groundwork for the book and related projects was guided by their focus on decentering the university and deconstructing white saviorism in community-engaged work. Too often, universities put themselves at the heart of university-community partnerships, presuming they have the answer to communities’ problems or proposing initiatives that extract knowledge and data from communities for the benefit of teaching and research, they said.

Santana and Garcia-Guevara are among the founders of the New England Equity and Engagement Consortium, which facilitates the work of project teams that undertake research and develop initiatives to promote equity and inclusion in community engagement. Their book is an outgrowth of those ongoing efforts and was supported by Campus Compact, a coalition of colleges and universities striving to advance the public impact of higher education.

The group’s efforts, including the book, recently received the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award from the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. The award recognizes excellence in research and scholarship that advances diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The book offers practical guidance for pivoting away from higher education-centric collaborations to prioritize anti-racist values both within and beyond college and university campuses. Each of the 22 chapters demonstrates how the authors have implemented one or more of the anti-racist principles in their own work.

When the editors put out a call for authors, they were surprised by the strong response they received. “We got 91 abstracts,” Garcia-Guevara said. “We chose 27 and then further whittled it down to 22. One of the criteria that eliminated candidates were those who either focused on anti-racism but not community engagement, or they were community-engaged projects, but they weren’t necessarily anti-racist. We really wanted ones that did both.”

At no more than 2,500 words each, the chapters are aimed at ensuring a wide variety of stakeholders can gain insights in a concise format. The chapters are structured by first outlining a ‘case,’ then the ‘practices’ the authors used to address the case issues, and finally the ‘connections’ their casework has in the larger community.

As an example, Santana spoke about a chapter written by and for Latinx community members. It involves a professor and her two graduate students whose ‘case’ was the realization that there was a scarcity of books written for Latinx children.

In their ‘practices’ section, they explain how they worked with local schools to come up with a virtual story time during the pandemic. In the ‘connections’ section, they talk about how their work might contribute to institutional and community change. “The professor who’s leading this project talks about how, hopefully, in the future folks at her institution might become more invested in doing this kind of work around ethnically sensitive issues,” Santana said.

The book’s back cover and foreword offer advanced praise for the volume from several notable people who speak to its critical contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion in community engagement work.

Timothy Eatman, dean of the Honors Living-Learning Community at Rutgers University and a noted researcher of institutional policy and equity issues in higher education, addresses the significance and timeliness of the book when he notes, “This volume does important work for the field by giving voice to prophetic imagination that cuts through entrenched dysfunctional notions of knowledge creation. It invites readers to show up by demonstrating, staking out, and making visible the tangible pathways that people are building collectively in their own spaces to create a way toward the future that isn’t marred by racism.”

Likewise, John Saltmarsh, professor emeritus of higher education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, cites the vitality of the work in his back-cover blurb: “This book captures the diverse voices of community-engaged scholars to offer critically important lessons for everyone involved in the community engagement field.”

Above photo by Nancy Sheehan

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