It Takes A Village

The full Nigerian (Igbo) proverb reads, “It takes a village to raise a child”. This quote resonates with me when thinking of my value for community, which is also a value of Oregon Women in Higher Education. I wouldn’t be where I am today without support from my chosen family, community, and mentors. From dropping out of high school, to becoming a scholar-practitioner activist & community leader, I know the importance of having people around you who share values and identities. As a femme with multiple oppressed identities, I know this work can causes serious burnout. Affinity or other forms of community engagement might be critical just to survive the work day, especially in areas like the Pacific Northwest.

One incredible source of power that can be used as a tool for equity work is people power. Societal norms teach us individualistic approaches to leadership and ways of thinking which are limited, and at times ineffective. Salsa, Soul, and Spirit by Juana Bordas interrogates this more, and reflects on leadership styles from major cultures around the world. Multicultural leadership brings a commitment to advance people who reflect the vitality, values, and voices of all people within all levels of organizations and society (Bordas, 2007). This requires a collective approach to leadership, which considers the lived experiences of those involved and how to incorporate them in team or decision-making processes. Collective leadership is intrinsically connected to the state of a community, since their voices are interconnected in team processes.  

Upon starting my role at Portland State University, my value for community surfaced in leading a program called Gathering Space: Building Community. This program fostered a student-centered space to address issues, build community, and build the foundation for two soon-to-be opened campus resource centers. My lens to foster community in this project led to listening sessions, committees, and multiple forms of engagement that were both virtual and physical to collect feedback. Students, staff, faculty, and members of the greater community meaningfully integrated their voices within university processes. Within my current role as Chair for ACPA’s Coalition for Women’s Identities, I incorporated multiple voices in restructuring processes to form restorative solutions for our organizational needs.

The work of supporting retention for diverse students isn’t easy: it requires academic integration, crisis intervention & advocacy, and wearing all sorts of different hats during the work day. Self-soothing after work, investing in my community, and finding meaningful spaces for reflection are key. Civic responsibility is an essential component of my value for community, so I connect this work with my service in the Oregon area. From attending demonstrations and marches for equal rights, attending events, and being in resource sharing groups, I maintain continued engagement as a community organizer after my 9 to 5. My community organizing efforts have led to currently planning a national conference for the Climate Justice Alliance, and sitting on the Board of Directors for OPAL Environmental Justice. My commitment to connecting educational advocacy, research, and community engagement has led me to be identified as an endorsed candidate in an upcoming political race for Portland, Oregon. On a personal level, I am deep into the world of anime and superhero geekdom and attend conventions, write articles, and join groups with other geeks of color. Merging my love for comics and supporting students happens with an Afrofuturist framework, and helps students re-imagine realities for communities free from the restraints of racial oppression. My personal practice is heavily saturated in community, and that also encourages others I work with to actively think about community conditions and needs.

Being mindful of how a community works, its needs, and its history are critical for the community to thrive. Oregon has some particularly troubling history surrounding the exclusion of Black people, gentrification, pre-internment conditions, and white nationalism to name a few. Part of my leadership involves consulting, collaborating, and working on small projects for organizations and groups to talk more about the history of our community, and implications for work within their team.

A community lens could be seen as prescriptive: if no one from the community is involved in your event/team process, then they probably won’t be involved afterwards. They probably will not show up to an event that don’t have a need for. Understanding the needs and interests of a given community is essential to plan an intentional event, or provide a community resource. Working in silos or isolation only creates additional barriers to everyday work, especially for female-identified folks in the academy. Scholars, professionals, and all leaders of higher education have a duty to disrupt university practices, to allow open channels for feedback and collective engagement.

 

Shanice B. Clarke is a scholar-practitioner within Portland State University’s Cultural Resource Centers. She also is Co-Chair for ACPA’s Coalition for Women’s Identities, and can be reached at sclarke@pdx.edu.

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