Diversity, voice, and community engagement: We are stronger together

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done any serious reflection on my work and consequent writing.  Spring semester ended in a rush of activity and my writing practice went down the drain.  Generally, I’ve been reserving Friday afternoons for an hour or two of writing, which I’ve published here (for the most part).  So, in keeping with that tradition, today I will be reflecting on my Spring semester accomplishments.

I’ve been involved in three planning committees that held programs this spring:  the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED, a committee of POWER), the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and the Information Literacy Learning Community of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC).  Planning these programs took months of committee work.  When these kinds of programs come to a close I feel such a sense of relief and accomplishment.  There are reports, schedules, and resources from each of the programs on their respective websites and I would encourage any curious readers to check them out.   The ACED panel allowed Allentown community members to discuss real estate development and consequent community action with local community leaders, the ACRL DelVal program was about library partnerships, and the theme of the LVAIC information literacy symposium was Structures of Power in Information.  In my mind, these three programs have a lot in common, but this lesson stands out:

Communities are better when everyone’s interests are represented. 

We are stronger together.

Though the marginalized members of communities may be easy to ignore, when they are included their voices bring strength and power.  In my work with ACED, we determined from the beginning that, though we represent the community, we don’t represent all of the community and needed to be able to engage the people of Allentown immediately to determine what their needs and desires were for our home.  This panel was an effort to engage by providing an opportunity for education and communication.  It was followed by round tables where community members could express their ideas and continue conversations with one another.

The panel and round tables were  helpful in guiding the direction of our continued organization work.  This is the kind of democratic community building discussed in Sarah Stanlick’s “Rethinking the expert voice:  Knowledge-making in community engagement,” which was presented at the LVAIC symposium.  Democratic community engagement is important for all library partnerships; it’s important that our work is relational, reciprocal, and that we co-create our knowledge of and in our communities. In my mind, this relates to the way that librarian’s design assessment measures and determine what kind of assessment we value, how we develop research projects and what stakeholders we include in research, and our pedagogical practices within the classroom.

I’ve also been reflecting on voice in preparation for my own presentation at the LVAIC symposium with Kate Richmond titled “Engaging students in identifying voice in scholarship.”  When presenting academic research to students in the classroom, it is often beneficial to discuss the identities of authors and research participants as part of a discussion of authority as constructed and contextual.  Of course, students need to understand the process of information creation that gives academics increased trust in academic journal articles before we break it down.  However, it’s important to remember that many scholarly conversations are only occurring in communities of privilege.  For example, in reviews of peer-reviewed psychology research by Eagly & Riger (2014), the majority of senior authors were found to be are white, upper-class men who were senior professors at top research universities.  And participant populations fall into similar categories.  One of my favorite statistics is in Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan’s (2010) article “The weirdest people in the world?”:

“A randomly selected American undergraduate is more than 4,000 times
more likely to be a research participant [in the behavioral sciences] than is a randomly selected person from outside of the West” (p. 63).

Perhaps this doesn’t affect the way that you read articles, but what if it does?  Sharing this information with students helps them to develop a critical eye towards scholarly work and also allows for conversations about the development and value of different kinds of authority.  The authority of personal experience, or that developed by organic intellectuals (see Mentzell Ryder’s (2015) “Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai”), is valuable and can be valued in the classroom.  One way to do this is by allowing students to design the classroom environment or direct classroom discussion.  We can also increase student’s opportunities to share their own experience and value self-reflection that allows them to contextualize learning.

Co-creation of knowledge in and about libraries is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about cities is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about communities is best done through inclusion of all voices.

And, in closing, I just want to state that I value the public nature of this blog and the readers who occasionally give me feedback.  I value reading and hope to continue to share my own experiences through publication, but I know that I need to continue my writing practice if I’m ever going to become a valued author.  Today I determined that I needed to write something to exercise my writing muscles.  If you want to be good at a craft, remember that growth comes through practice and process.

References

Eagly, A. H., & Riger, S. (2014). Feminism and psychology: Critiques of methods and epistemology. American Psychologist, 69(7), 685–702. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037372

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Ryder, P. M. (2015). Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(1), 175–187.

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