Global Days of Service: Community Partnerships and Social Change -->

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Global Days of Service: Community Partnerships and Social Change

Working with students, Writing Center Administrative Assistants and those I “see” through the Writing Center, provides me an opportunity to learn about the great work students do in the name of social change as part of their studies, career paths, and volunteer work. In fact, one aspect that drew me to Walden University as a Writing Instructor was Walden’s social change mission—social change is something that is both professionally and personally important to me.   
Global Days of Service Title Image

My own graduate studies were grounded in social change. As a community literacy scholar, studying and presenting how everyday people go public, social change meant helping to disseminate the voices of others—voices not often heard across communities—to wide, disparate, audiences, such as scholars, activists, and others who might find inspiration from these voices to enact their own social change mission. However, writing about communities and people when one is positioned as an outsider to that community is, well, complicated. Thus, as we kick off the Global Days of Service here at Walden University, I’m reminded that it’s important for those who enter a community with the goal of social change to do so ethically by understanding one’s own outsider status and keeping the community’s true needs in mind.

Luckily, as a discipline, community literacy provided me a foundation for facing this complicated situation of studying, writing about, and volunteering for communities I was an outsider to. For instance, I observed and interviewed community members of a group who were going public against the racial discrimination and sanctions they faced in relation to their immigration status. As someone whose race, immigration status, and subsequently, social and political experiences differed from this group, I was a community “outsider” in relation to their status as community “insiders.” That said, community literacy practices are grounded in changing the dynamics of this outsider-insider issue—not by pretending to close this gap, but by acknowledging it and respecting the various insider-outsider dynamics and differences at work. I quickly learned that these dynamics and differences are fluid, much like an individual’s intersecting identities (gender, race, class, etc.) are fluid.

So, while I was observing and interviewing community members, it was important that I considered my own outsider status to include how the group I was writing about was not static in terms of identity or social and political public position. One way to achieve this was to ensure that the group I studied co-created my research—their voices were always at the forefront of my work and they provided feedback on my notes and writing along the way. Thus, my work was not the result of passive, unreflective observation and interviewing group members, but the result of self-reflection and ethically fostered relationships and communications.

Equally important to ensuring that the voice of the community led my work was ensuring that I volunteered for the community for allowing me to study them and did so on their terms. More specifically, in exchange for allowing me to study the group, I provided some much-needed volunteer work—work that helped the group continue to meet and grow. In this case: babysitting.

Admittedly, babysitting was a less glamorous reality of volunteering and social change work than I expected. In my mind, I imagined myself more at the forefront—helping with organizing marches or discussing tactics for going public—after all, I had a background in public rhetoric. I might have requested to do something more “glamorous” as opposed to holding one end of a jump rope up or playing tag. However, I was an outsider to this community and this was not my social and political cause. That said, working with this group allowed me to reflect on my own understanding of what volunteer work means and how it should be driven by the needs of the community one is volunteering for.

If there is an overall “moral” to my volunteer work, it was that, no matter what your area of expertise is or what you think you should do to best support a community, volunteer work should be about what is most needed for that community at the time according to the community being volunteered for. Even the seemingly smallest tasks, such as babysitting, can have a huge, positive impact on a community. For instance, without babysitters, many community members would not have been able to meet with the group at all. Even the smallest task requested can prove to have an important outcome for a community.

When I volunteer during this year’s Global Days of Service,  I will keep in mind that acknowledging and respecting the voices, positions, and intersecting identities of others also means ensuring that the volunteer work I do is on the terms of the community I volunteer for. After all, social change is grounded in the need for people and communities to work together.

Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.

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  1. Hi Veronica I am inspired by you writing to continue my writing, I have a lot of knowledge that I would like to share and the only way is to write. Thank you so much, Deborah

    1. Thanks Deborah! We agree that writing is one of the best ways to influence our world and create positive change.

  2. Yes, anyone's "baby-steps" towards a social change goal encourages others to partipate in community projects.

    1. Great observation - sometimes all it takes is one person to get things started.