Engaged Times A member resource of Campus Compact By Julie B. Elkins, Ed.D., Director of Academic Initiatives Volume I I I ssue 3 M ay 19, 2010
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The Weight of Visibility: The Impact of Identity I had the opportunity to attend the 13th Annual Continuums of Service Conference, Vision, Courage, Leadership: Engagement to Strengthen Communities sponsored by the Western Region Campus Compact Consortium in Portland, Oregon this April. The conference kicked off with a powerful keynote presentation from Man.Alive. Man.Alive. is a trio performance troupe of men who were incarcerated. They share their memories and struggles with violence, addiction, and the dream of getting creating a new life. The project is an outgrowth of an innovative community engagement program between the San Francisco jail, the University of San Francisco studio/ theater depart-ment, and a local agency called Community Works. It was one of the most powerful conference openings I have seen. Since I had spent hours sitting on the airplane from my trip from the East Coast, I watched the production from the back of the large ballroom so I could stand. While I had a great view, I am also quite near sighted, so I could hear them and see the large movements, but not their faces. At the conference a few days later I attended the final keynote breakfast. During the presentation, someone dropped their fork on a plate at the next table and I turned to look. Our eyes met and I broke into a big grin, because it was just the kind of thing I would do, and he grinned back. Afterward, we struck up a conversation and instantly connected. We talked all about the conference, which sessions we had attended, and then planned to go to the next session together. After several minutes of conversation I introduced myself and asked what school or community he was with. He gave me an odd look and said, “I’m Reggie Daniels. I’m part of Man.Alive. from the opening session.” I explained about my nearsightedness and we shared a good laugh. Later I reflected upon the insight that my lack of sight had provided. I had to ask myself the painful question: Would our interaction have been the same for me if I had known that Reggie was an ex-con with a history of Engaged Times is a resource for members of Campus Compact.
If you have questions or to suggest a topic for an upcoming issue, please contact: Julie Elkins, Ed.D., Director of Academic Initiatives Tel: 617.357.1881, x 205 Email: email@example.com
I thought about the constant inequities of power that are inherent in servicelearning. Whenever someone from the university goes out into the community we often know so much about the individuals we work with, and, at times, we encounter them when they are at their most vulnerable. As a faculty member, the community partner knows little about me; just the basics like where I work, what I teach, and a few of my social group memberships that are readily visible like my gender and predominant race. While true service-learning is meant to be reciprocal, I began to wonder how reciprocal it can truly be if faculty and students have access to such a great deal of information about the social identities of community members, but they know so little about us in return. It hardly seems fair, nor does is appear to set the stage for a well-balanced relationship. Some social identities are more readily visible than others such as gender, size, or (occasionally) race, but other identities such as socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or ability may be invisible. This is an important truth to explore as we continue to strive for true reciprocal service-learning. Cutting Edge Man.Alive. is a perfect example of cutting-edge service-learning where students, faculty, community programs, and community individuals come together to create a powerful outcome. The project is complex, complicated, and creatively pushes the boundaries. Students and faculty must have a genuine motivation to collaborate with members of the community to create a mutual project that reaches beyond the scope of either party. This outreach project was multifaceted in ways that address the full spectrum of service-learning. The faculty member must skillfully conduct genuine outreach to multiple audiences: to members of the community, to educators at the community agency teaching about the realities of men who are incarcerated, and to the performers who transform their individual stories to art. Important to the Field Community engagement sits along a continuum with volunteerism and community out-reach at the beginning, and service-learning and civic engagement pushing towards the middle. I argue that service-learning does not represent the end of the continuum of community engagement. While I cannot visualize the end yet, I believe that we are beginning to see glimpses of a new era within the movement of community engagement where we may adopt new methods of thinking and creating action that go far beyond the simple spirit of collaboration.
Man.Alive. is such a provocative project. It reaches beyond basic collaboration to create a unified vision that has evolved as an entirely new medium to educate clients of the agency, students, faculty, and the community at large. It is truly reciprocal and for the mutual benefit of all entities. Man.Alive. taps into a powerful emotion that reaches out to individuals of all walks of life and that is the power and influence of isolation. Within the production, each man surfaces the overwhelming feeling of isolation that tainted each individual journey that led to feelings of powerlessness, and each man chose multiple acts of crime in response. How paradoxical that it may have taken the ultimate isolation of being incarcerated to enable each man to access his own inner strength.
Why is this important to my daily work The structure of Man.Alive. pushes the envelope in a number of different ways. It utilizes the talents of faculty, students, community staff, as well as the experiences of the three men that were incarcerated. It taps into individual areas of expertise, utilizing the resour-ces and assets each member has to offer. The ability to elicit the strengths of each mem-ber of the collaborative group is an excellent example of how to structure effective community engagement. In the spirit of reciprocal learning, what portions of our individual identity are visible and what are invisible--whether we are students, faculty, or community members? Are there inequities in the sharing of identities between these groups? Do these inhibit our success? Are there opportunities to facilitate a leveling of the playing field? Do visible and invisible identities promote professional boundaries and respect among all members? These are hard questions, but important ones to consider and address as we move forward as a field, engaging the whole community in our mutually-beneficial work. Resources on the Topic Man.Alive. is a performance troupe that illuminates “…the edge of incarceration to the flight of imagination, a collaboration of community and professional artists that include Ivan Corado, Reggie Daniels, Freddie Gutierrez, and Antonio Johnson and co-directors Amie Dowling, Paul S. Flores, and Natalie Greene.” “Man.Alive. explores the memories and imaginations of four men (three ex-offenders) who meet in San Francisco County Jail where they struggle with violence, addiction, and institutionalization, and dream of the possibility of change. Man.Alive. is an artistic collaboration, written and designed by the performers. In a culture where the incarcerated are buried and their voices suppressed, Man.Alive. lets them speak for themselves and allows the community to listen.” “To develop Man.Alive. Stories from the edge of incarceration to the flight of imagination, we used a creative process of generating text and movement through improvisations and writings based on life experiences and beliefs of Company members. The performers’ stories are woven together with the experiences of other Company members, and crafted into a whole.” “Man.Alive. Stories from the edge of incarceration to the flight of imagination, took place in October of 2009 at the University of San Francisco in the Studio/Theater. All three nights were sold out. Audiences were comprised of USF administrators, faculty, and students, members of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, friends and family of the performers and individuals from the Bay Area”. “Man.Alive. is a project of Community Works (CW). CW is a nonprofit whose mission is to engage youth and adults in arts and education programs that interrupt and heal the farreaching impact of incarceration and violence by empowering individuals, families and communities.”
Phone: W ebsite:
510-486-2340 www.community- works-ca.org