“I feel like I want to start dancing right now! We don’t do enough moving together,” said Honors College Dean Mari Castañeda, referring to the salsa music playing in the background of the Dinner and Discussion Zoom call. Dean Castañeda and Professor Joseph Krupczynski hosted the semester's first Dinner and Discussion on October 21, when they tackled “The Power of Community and Civic Engagement, Moving from Me to We.”
“We started with music because a lot of the community-based work that we tend to do is in a lot of Latinx communities locally, regionally, and [at] music and culture and parties ... fiestas are such a big part of community-building and building connections with people,” said Castañeda. “So, we wanted to begin with music because that’s an important part of bringing folks together.”
The event was part of the Honors College tradition of hosting “Pizza and Prof” nights, where professors and students talk over pizza about a subject presented by a professor. As programming has moved online due to the pandemic, professors are hosting “Dinner and Discussion” nights instead.
Dean Castañeda led the night with Joseph Krupczynski, a professor in the Department of Architecture and director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) at UMass.
The dean discussed civic engagement and her experience with it, as well as the work that she has been involved in. Throughout the event, she engaged with attendees, first by asking them to introduce themselves in the chat, and then through a series of poll questions. She asked where people were watching from, and what their experiences are in community engagement. Attendees shared volunteer and organizing experiences, highlighting what stood out about their past engagement work.
Dean Castañeda and Professor Krupczynski coedited the book Civic Engagement in Diverse Latinx Communities: Learning from Social Justice Partnerships in Action. The book draws on a combination of personal experiences and examples of “Latinx civic engagement” to explore a new Latinx community-university practice and framework. They both referenced their background volunteering in Holyoke as a way to introduce community engagement frameworks, and the impact of service learning.
For a framework on community engagement and moving from “me to we,” Castañeda and Krupczynski introduced what they called the four Cs: the complexity of community, the multiplicity of collaboration, the challenge of criticality, and the importance of communication.
“The complexity of community [means that] community is not monolithic... Collaboration: there are multiple ways that folks are connecting, and the collaboration is not a one-way street, but really about reciprocity and how we can work together. [It’s] not just how I can benefit from this wonderful collaboration, but how the partners I’m working with are getting something from what we want to build," Castañeda explained. "The challenge of criticality is really about acknowledging the position that we hold. How do we enter into spaces? What are the assumptions that we’re making.”
Castañeda drew on her experiences in her class, “Latinx Media Studies,” in which she partnered with WGBY, and worked with producers from a bilingual Spanish/English magazine-format series, Presencia, in Springfield. Students focused on stories around the issues that Presencia was covering. They also partnered with Pueblo Latino, a publication based in Springfield that is written in Spanish and published by The Republican. As a result of COVID-19, the focus of the course shifted, and students started looking at the impact of coronavirus in the areas these organizations were working in.
“One of the things that was really important and wonderful about this experience was that not all of my students were Latinx, or even Spanish-speaking, but they were thinking about ‘What is that experience in the United States?’ ‘What does it look like?’ and 'Can I be a partner in thinking about what various different issues communities are grappling with and, particularly, this community?'”
“That was the other way of challenging the ways students were thinking, and that movement from 'me' to 'we' started happening... At first, students were thinking, ‘I want to take this class for a requirement,’ and then started thinking about themselves in larger contexts,” said Castañeda, reflecting on the impact this class has had on students.
She also said that many students mentioned she was their first Latinx identifying professor, and that having a professor who is Latina was transformative for them because of what she brought from her own experience into the classroom.
“One of the things I thought that was really wonderful was that a lot of students mentioned that they had never had a Latina professor […] so having someone like me teaching this course, for me was so interesting, because for me, I’m just being me, […] but for the students that was significant and that was transformative in many ways, because of the ways in which I’m teaching about some of these issues, the readings, and ways we discuss things,” she said.
“Look for these learning opportunities, no matter what context you're in," said Krupczynski. "I think that’s one of the key things about community engagement in general, and engagement at UMass. You have opportunities to learn in the classroom, but you also have opportunities to learn outside the classroom on campus. Then you have opportunities to learn outside of campus; looking at community engagement is one way to do that."
Krupczynski presented on Holyoke Visible, a project where he and Co-Director of Holyoke Visible Max Page, a professor of architecture at UMass, explored ways to catalyze these empty, dormant spaces in Holyoke.
“The title of this project came from those conversations with community partners, and they said often academics or others come into a city and have kind of a colonial mentality of discovery, of thinking they’re going to discover something in the city," said Krupczynski, "and what folks are saying is actually there’s amazing things to uncover, to make visible here in Holyoke.”
The project design is a trailer that opens and provides a space for people to come together around shared food, music, art or conversation. The outside of the trailer was decorated during a series of painting parties, during which community members decorated it while reflecting on what it means to make different aspects of Holyoke visible. The trailer is pulled on a bicycle through Holyoke, and hosts events, such as a film screening and a bilingual poetry reading, in different public spaces.
“What we tried to do with this project is find a way for communities to participate to celebrate the sense of community they can have together, and to advance a community identified goal,” Krupczynski explained.
Krupczynski encouraged any students interested in learning more about “moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’” and community to look into UMass’s Civic Engagement and Service-Learning programs.