Prejudice and Bullying

Senior Bonner Scholar, Alivia Pinnix, reflects on bullying as a social issue she has encountered through her community engagement in Richmond.

The factors that contribute to bullying include prejudices about various personal identities. I have found that kids bully other kids who are different from them, but even more than that they bully kids who are socially misunderstood. Pre-teens and teens tend to pick on students who have identities that they do not understand and therefore consider abnormal or nonhuman.

For example, some students get picked on for identifying as homosexual. It is also the case that students get picked on because others assume that they are homosexual even if they themselves do not identify that way. Society has taught children to believe that heterosexuality is the norm, so identities and practices outside the norm are shunned. This encourages bullying at school.

The same can be said for individuals who identify outside of the gender binary which refers to man and woman. Individuals who identify as transgender or intersex do not fit into those categories and are made to feel as if they are not human. It is always unfortunate and unacceptable for individuals to be made to feel as though they are not human or do not deserve to live.

Getting My Hands Dirty

When I sat down for an interview with the staff of Shalom Farms in the spring, I distinctly remember telling them I wanted to “get my hands dirty.” An internship with them appealed to me, in part, because it would involve playing in the dirt, sweating in the hot sun, growing colorful food that tastes good to me. One of many lessons the internship brought my way, though, was the importance of questioning–and shaking off–precisely this kind of attitude.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that there’s a whole lot more to what Shalom does than growing food. The organization focuses on helping low-access neighborhoods improve their food security and self-sufficiency; growing healthy, sustainable produce is hardly even the first step. Even when a farm stand or a food pantry makes healthy food available, the challenge becomes re-educating shoppers on how to cook the food in ways that taste good to them, how to shop health-consciously on a budget, and why it’s important to provide a balanced diet for their kids. In a neighborhood where many residents struggle to pay bills, keep their kids in school, and put any food at all on the table, it’s hard to make the quality of that food a priority. Cooking skills and family-centered food rituals have fallen out of their cultural memory, as has awareness of the political and economic injustices that have made obesity, diabetes, and constant fast food the norm for them. Simply making healthy food available to a community doesn’t arm them with the skills to incorporate that food sustainably into their lifestyle, or to revitalize their community together–so Shalom makes that skill-building a priority.

Cultural and linguistic barriers make this re-education awkward, at best. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s so often a privileged, white, physically fit student telling parents she knows better than they do how to care for their families. I consider it the duty of privileged students to empower others with the knowledge we have access to. But where many of us go wrong when it comes to food is that we let our aesthetics, rather than our drive for social justice, motivate us. I spoke with dozens of volunteers at the farm who told me they were there because they love to get dirty, because how often do we get to put on gloves and overalls, because plants are so colorful and therapeutic to be around. When I discussed my internship with friends and family, similar patterns emerged. And in the research I conducted as a Burhans Civic Fellow, I found that the discourse of food access advocacy in Richmond is often structured by this aesthetic frame of mind.

That research involved examining the language on the websites of food access advocacy organizations like Shalom, as a very narrow case study within a much broader conversation on urban American food equality. I found, among other things, that advocates consistently use the “get your hands dirty” rhetoric to attract volunteers and (theoretically) encourage neighborhood involvement in their projects. But this trope only builds more barriers, by positioning agriculture and health as luxuries meant only for the privileged. That we enjoy getting our hand dirty implies that we can choose to keep them clean–that labor is recreational. This makes our work feel divorced from the reality of the communities we’re trying to help, in which previous and present generations have been forced into physical labor to survive. Finding farm work purely fun depends on coming from a cultural history that doesn’t include that kind of work as a necessity–and in our country, those cultural histories have almost always split along racial lines.

It’s one thing for non-profits to use the “dirty hands” trope to attract volunteers; it’s another thing for someone who considers herself an informed and intentional advocate to realize she has embodied it. Was I really attracted to a summer with Shalom because I was passionate about rectifying injustices and fighting for universal food access? In part, absolutely–but to what extent was I also attracted the exoticism of hard labor, or the trendiness of veggies and farmer’s market culture? No matter what first impelled me to spend my summer with Shalom, my supervisors encouraged me to constantly be evaluating our motivations and our approach. Both my linguistic and my socio-political understandings of food access advocacy have blossomed this summer, as has my belief in the power of civically engaged action-research to fuel more effective social movements. But I hope part of my own advocacy for food equality can now include challenging my peers to move, as someone once punned, beyond the kale–to think critically about their own motivations for getting involved with food and agriculture, and to get involved in ways that are civically minded, culturally competent, and well-informed about the political/economic/cultural forces shaping our food system.

-Jen Swegan, ’15, 2014 Food and Nutrition Fellow

Some resources to check out:

Guthman, Julie. “Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice.” Cultural Geographies, vol. 15, no. 4, October 2008.

Reynolds, Kristin and Nevin Cohen. Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City. Forthcoming, University of Georgia Press. www.beyondthekale.org

Saul, Nick and Andrea Curtis. The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement. It’s this year’s One Book One Campus selection–you can find copies in public places all over campus!

Theory and Practice

The CCE’s 10 civic fellows completed internships in Richmond and around the world this past summer. Their internships, in the nonprofit or government sector, were tied to an academic-research project. Students studying a variety of disciplines were able to see how academic theories hold up when put into practice in nonprofit or government organizations. Here’s what a few civic fellows have to say about their fellowship:

“What began as a small idea to create a pamphlet on obtaining and utilizing medical assistance, quickly grew into a large-scale project entailing the formulation of seven pamphlets targeted at the issues our office most frequently heard from clients. The team decided the best way to make these resources available to our clients and their families was to create a colorful display in our Intake Office, where each youth is required to go to obtain the assistance of the public defender. The final project produced pamphlets describing and addressing the following topics: Medical Assistance, GED programs, Special Education Programs, Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, Community Service Programs, Housing Issues and Programs, and Mentoring Programs. Each of these issues is not only significant to our clients in Baltimore City, but is also found to be a predictor for involvement in the criminal-justice system by sociologists studying other locales as well. By providing our clients and their families a means of combating the social inequity of knowledge, we are hoping to better their lives, even marginally, and to see a decrease in the prevalence of these problems throughout our clientele.”

-Abbey Beichler, Baltimore Public Defender’s Office, Juvenile Division

“My work with the University of Louisville Global Health Initiative has focused on the refugee community in the Greater Louisville area as well as individuals living with HIV/AIDS. My primary responsibilities have been creating social-networking sites. Additionally, I have been working at the Refugee Immunization Clinic every other week. My job at the clinic has been checking the patients in for their appointments. I have also had the opportunity to shadow [doctors in] the University of Louisville’s HIV//AIDS clinic. I believe that my internship with the UofL GHI encompasses everything both of my majors focus on. I am not only learning several new things about healthcare, both on a local and international scale, but I am also putting my business skills to work through my creation of a new website and social-media sites.”

Charlsey Graham, ’15, University of Louisville Center of Infectious Diseases

“My placement at the Bryan Innovation Lab (BIL) allowed me to analyze a private-school system and curriculum and experiment with various methods of lesson planning and instruction while practicing differentiation and collaborative-classroom teaching. Leaning heavily on my knowledge from my education classes, Education in America and Diverse Learners, I experienced the power of innovation and creativity in a flexible classroom environment. By assisting BIL in hosting community partners, working first-hand with some of these community partners, and helping research and network with future partners for both the BIL and for the Coral Reef Project, I brought together communities within Richmond.” Emily integrated the basics of crochet with a lesson on marine biology into an interactive summer project called, The Crochet Coral Reef Project.

Emily Whitted, ’15, Bryan Innovation Lab, The Stewart School

Check out our website to find out more about the Civic Fellowship Program.

Summer School

UR’s seven Urban Education Fellows spent ten weeks this summer working with education summer programs for youth in Northside Richmond. Some students were placed at Higher Achievement: Northside and Higher Achievement: Southside, and others were placed at Youth Life Foundation: Northminster Teen Program. Some students plan to be teachers after college, and others were able to explore the field of education through their internship.

The fellows gained deep insight into education curriculum, youth development in Richmond, and the importance of building relationships with students. One fellow notes, “I think the most important thing I learned was how to build trust with other people… After doing this experience I could never just walk away from this community and the students.”

“This was an amazing experience…to put theory and practice together, and to work and reflect with the same group of peers, to go on this journey together.” -Urban Education Fellow

Fellows consider, “I used to think… and now I think…” after a summer teaching middle school students in Northside Richmond.

 

2014 Urban Education Fellows

Why do YOU engage?

The 2014-2015 Build It Action Group met for the first time last night. The leadership team spent time discussing volunteer recruitment, “CCE lingo,” and reflecting on their time in Highland Park.

Our leaders were asked a broad question about their motivations for engagement, and their powerful responses are a reflection of the CCE’s commitment to student learning. No matter what your interest or skill set, there is a place for you in the city of Richmond.

UR students: How will YOU engage?

“To empower others to succeed.” -Sophia, Youth Life Northminster Center

 

“To give students the equity they deserve.”              -Sarah, Youth Life Teen Program

 

“To show children an alternative way to approach school and healthy living.” -Dan, Northside Family YMCA

 

“To make a difference in kids lives and have fun!” -Amber, Youth Life Highland Park

 

“Loyalty to my mentee…to see her smile.”            -Sarah, Youth Life Delmont

 

“To connect with local voices in an exchange of knowledge and experience.” -Whitney, Rubicon

 

“To be a mentor to the youth and have a positive influence on them.” -Matt, Overby-Sheppard Elementary

Mapping International Development: Power and Politics

 

 

Dillon Massey ‘15

People often ask how research is considered civic-engagement, and I often reply that civic-based research and other types of indirect service provide basis and support for direct engagement. As a Bonner, my involvement in civic engagement and service learning has been characterized by research.  Specifically, my research has taken me to the Southside of Richmond, where I analyzed the growth of the Latino population in the city and the changing demography of the city with the Office of Multicultural Affairs; it has taken me to the US Embassy in Lima and the Southeastern Amazon in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Put differently, civic engagement has given me the basis to serve both domestically and internationally, with the common theme being geospatial tools and geovisualization.

At the US Embassy in Lima, I worked for the United States Agency for International Development’s South American Regional Environment office, which houses the Initiative for the Conservation of the Andean Amazon (ICAA). ICAA is aimed at strengthening and increasing conservation efforts in the Andean Amazon biome in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and formerly Bolivia (due to USAID’s expulsion on May 1, 2013 by Evo Morales). My role in this office was to coordinate GIS efforts for USAID’s portion of ICAA.  In particular, I was charged with designing a way to manage, accept and acquire data, as well as with visualizing data on USAID’s ArcGIS Online Pilot. While on the surface, this does not present as a project working towards the solution of a social issue or as civic engagement in any way, I was met with many challenges, having framed my work, academically and civically, through the lenses of the power of maps, the politics of maps, and participative GIS.

I worked with the power dynamics between a powerful government titan—USAID and NGO’s, local organizations, as well as indigenous communities in the Amazon. By mapping the Amazon, in some ways, the US is making claims of ownership. Mapping creates a story, it paints a specific picture that the cartographer intends to depict; maps are powerful tools. Maps have to be practices; maps are never simply a map, they are a process of mappings. Through cartography, territories are delineated, created, and altered. The capacity to create boundaries, in an almost imperial manner, is powerful. Places are created through mapping, though there still exists erasures, silences, and a distortion of reality in maps.

Relationships of power, control, and spatiality are made explicit through the politics of maps.  These relationships stem from the root of politics—the influence over people, the organized control of an audience, and power.  One map can illustrate power through an area or people’s ability to be mapped, through mapping cartographers and their superiors that can extend control over such areas or people, and through the spatial distribution and other geospatial aspects of an area.

Through analyzing the mapping involved with environmental conservation and indigenous territories and rights, I have found there to be a strong political aspect. The efficacy of such maps is often dependent upon their ability to embody the areas they represent.  This may include the embodiment of the traditions and customs associated with an indigenous territory or the biodiversity of a natural area. The politics of mapping indigenous territories, specifically, brings about questions of empowerment, effects on the communities, and government interests, much like the work I have been involved in with Dr. John Moeser, through his Unpacking the Census work.

As a young man, with USAID being my first experience working in the role of a GIS technician and analyst, I had to be mindful and critical of the work that I was doing.  I was constantly assessing if the work I was doing was aligned with the ideas of civic engagement. In an almost purely technical position, it was difficult to ensure that I understood my work through a critical cartography lens and through a lens of civic-based engagement and learning.

Whether domestic or international, the importance of technical research in securing a platform and basis for the solution of social issues and forward movement in civic engagement is paramount.

Connecting Business and Social Change

Aidan ‘15

It is a beautiful thing when business is able to promote social change and strengthen communities. During my time at Richmond, I have worked to find outlets for my interest in social change and have pursued opportunities to blend these pursuits with my business studies. With the help of a CCE Fellowship, I was able to have an amazingly rewarding internship this past summer in Vancouver with a non-profit social enterprise called Mission Possible.

Mission Possible works to create and run small businesses that employ members of the local community, which is the poorest urban postal code in Canada, and includes many who otherwise have very limited opportunities. The job market operates in such a way that makes it nearly impossible for someone who has an employment gap on their resume, a criminal record, or certain physical constraints from obtaining employment, regardless of their determination and potential. I believe opportunities and work have tremendous power in lifting people out of poverty and hopelessness. Communities need businesses to give these individuals a chance, and, when they do, there is opportunity for tremendous financial and societal growth.

A social enterprise’s desire for financial stability and positive social outcomes makes it unique in its ability to attract customers. From an altruistic standpoint, the idea of creating jobs for those who have certain barriers to employment is very commendable.  Such businesses also realize increased financial performance because of consumers’ desire to align themselves with a positive mission. Many individuals and organizations are naturally attracted to businesses that have these social outcomes, and so it incentivizes for-profit businesses to also adopt pro-social practices.

The CCE’s commitment to help me align community engagement with my studies has yielded tremendous results. I have been able to see first-hand how a commonly perceived trade-off between “making money” and “doing good” is actually false. I have been equipped with an experience that will allow me to better identify opportunities in my career where some of my skills can promote social change and strengthen the communities in which I find myself.

http://www.mission-possible.ca/

Analyzing Broken Systems: Education in Richmond

Michele ‘15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Pure submission.”  It’s one of those churchy sayings that I heard a lot growing up but never fully understood.  For a long time, I thought it meant saying certain things, acting how people expected me to act, essentially being “good,” whatever the heck that means.  Looking back, I was so incredibly wrong.  I assumed that, in submitting purely to the God I believe in, I would finally cease my incessant analysis of the world and everything in it.  He’d take control and I would simply follow.  In case you couldn’t guess…wrong again.  My analysis of the world is warranted because there is brokenness within it- broken systems, broken people, broken dreams.

Nearly one year ago today, I started volunteering at Henderson Middle School, a Richmond city public school in the North side.  I naively supposed that the hardest part of volunteering would be waking myself up at 8, finishing my Spanish homework, and somehow making it to the bus stop by 9:45.  Thankfully, I managed to flag down Landon (the shuttle driver) at promptly 9:47 and we proceeded to drive off campus, onto the interstate and very far away from the University of Richmond.  In reality, it only took us 15 minutes to reach the North side of the city but it might as well have been hours.  I knew a lot of things coming into volunteering: Metro Richmond schools have far less resources than are needed to successfully educate the thousands of kids that walk through the various school doors, Henderson Middle School is located in a low-income area with copious incidents of crime, many children are not blessed with the resources I took for granted as a 4th grader, the list goes on.  But I didn’t actually understand any of these things that I knew so well.

The minute I entered my assigned middle school classroom and attempted to assist the 6th grader sitting across from me at the worn wooden table, I realized my mind was finished for the day.  The thing that got me the most was that she, along with half of her class, didn’t care that she was reading on a 3rd grade level or that her 11 year old friend was being taken out of class by a security guard.  It later occurred to me that maybe they care too much and in the face of what seems like imminent failure, it’s easier to feign indifference.  Either way, there was no chance I’d be able to leave that classroom thinking all of the normal college thoughts: psychology, spring break, midterms.

Walking back to the shuttle, I wished I wasn’t such a thinker, that I could just live the go with the flow lifestyle that I so often pretend I lead.  All day, I was frustrated with inequality and constantly switched back and forth between desiring to change the world and feeling hopeless to do so.  Why do all of the white kids in this city go to one school and all of the black ones to another?  I honestly thought this was the 21st century.  Why was the teacher I shadowed understandably worn out, frustrated and lacking in her drive to educate kids who don’t want to be educated?  The more I pondered these questions, the more I simultaneously hated and loved my brain’s insistence to do so.

These questions that began to surface last spring are what led me to sign up for an alternative spring break that is offered through our office each year.  This year, the focus of the program will be on education in Richmond.   We will visit various types of schools- public, private, charter- and learn from teachers, policy makers, students and parents about the strengths and weaknesses of our city’s education system.  In the end, I guess questioning, analyzing, praying, all the things that I spend my days doing, are firmly interwoven with pure submission.  Taking a break to analyze the world in which I live is not me pulling away from my faith but rather trying to better understand why in the world I chose to claim it in the first place.  Being “good” and going with the flow is nice but it doesn’t help me figure out why I believe what I believe and it certainly doesn’t help the 6th graders at Henderson Middle School improve their reading skills.

A Surprise Encounter: The Lasting Effect of Civic Engagement

Hannah ‘15

As I walked up and down the aisles of Martin’s this past Monday, the last thing I expected was for the routine trip to stock up on groceries to turn into the highlight of my week.  On my second lap around the produce section, however, I caught someone looking at me out of the corner of my eye.  It was a Martin’s employee, who politely asked me how I was doing as I walked past him.  Thinking nothing of it, I glanced up, quickly responded, and continued to shop.  But as I made my way to the back of the store, I noticed that the same employee was following me.  Confused as to what he might want, I turned around to talk to him.  The moment that I looked at him fully, I lit up with recognition.  It was Josh*, one of the students that I tutored at a local English as a Second Language (ESL) site last year.

During my sophomore year at UR, I took two courses with Community-Based Learning (CBL) components—the first was Justice and Civil Society within the Jepson School of Leadership studies, and the second was a course titled Living a Life of Consequence that corresponded with my Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program.  For both of these classes, I volunteered at a local ESL site where I met Josh.  When Josh and I first met, he had only been in the United States for a few years.  His family came to Virginia from Egypt, and upon arriving here he enrolled in a local high school in Richmond.  Because at the time that I started volunteering I was taking elementary Arabic at UR, Josh and I occasionally worked together on his homework.  I would help him with his English, and he would speak to me in Arabic, good-naturedly teasing me as I tried to brokenly respond with the little knowledge that I had.

Josh recognizing me in Martin’s nearly a year later was an inspiring surprise for two reasons.  First, I was touched that after such a long period of time Josh remembered me well enough to approach me in the grocery store to say hello.  He asked me about my Arabic studies, and inquired about the other UR students that volunteered at the site.  The random act of kindness that he performed by going out of his way to say hello reminded me of the joy that often inherently accompanies civic engagement.  Second, catching up with Josh reminded me how civic engagement can be linked to future aspirations.  When I first started volunteering, I was interested in working abroad after graduating from UR.  As such, an ESL site seemed like the perfect setting in which to volunteer because of its cultural diversity.  In the year between volunteering and seeing Josh again in Martin’s, however, my aspirations shifted.  I now want to pursue a career domestically in the field of education, either through teaching or education policy.  Even so, my experience volunteering at the ESL site still proves relevant.  When I spoke to Josh recently, he told me that he is about to graduate from high school.  Although his English sounded proficient, he expressed concerned about passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) English test.  SOLs have been a controversial issue in Virginia’s public education system, and Josh’s concerns about the test are relevant to my interests in education and education policy.  Moreover, my experiences teaching at the ESL site will be very useful as I work towards my new aspirations in the field of education.

Bridging Areas of Difference: Linking Through Language and Technology

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby ’14

JC and I are different in almost every way you can think of. He is a man, and I am a woman. His first language is French, and mine is English. He came to Richmond from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I from Rhode Island. He is my student, and I am his teacher.

Despite these areas of difference between us, however, JC and I are also remarkably similar. During our weekly English as a Second Language tutoring sessions we have uncovered many shared interests. We both, for instance, love to travel. As an International Studies major, I enjoy hearing JC’s stories about his trips to England to visit family, and about his life in the DRC. We are both also interested in politics, and JC is always eager to discuss his opinions on what is going on in the U.S. government. Our most passionate conversations, however, are about football. JC is a huge New England Patriots fan, and I root for the New Orleans Saints, so we always inevitably end up debating which team performed better that week, and who will make it to the Super Bowl.

JC and I were brought together by the Linking Through Language and Technology (LTLT) program, an on-campus student group I lead that connects UR students with UR staff members who wish to improve their English skills. These pairs of student volunteers and staff participants meet weekly at the International Center to practice English, to develop computer skills, and, perhaps most importantly, to build supportive relationships. As an International Studies and Spanish double major, my academic interests have been focused on immigration throughout college, but it was through my tutoring experience with LTLT that I truly developed an understanding of the challenges that come with immigrating to the United States. After having to leave their home countries, which can be an immense challenge in itself, immigrants must quickly learn to adapt to an entirely new environment once they arrive in the United States. Though each immigrant’s experience is different, common struggles include culture shock, language barriers, difficulties finding housing and employment, unfamiliarity with the education system, and discrimination. It is my hope that the LTLT program, which provides free ESL tutoring and support to any interested UR staff members in a convenient on-campus location, helps to make this very difficult transition just a little bit easier for members of our UR community.

While the goal of the LTLT program is ultimately to improve our staff participants’ English skills, I have found that I have probably learned just as much from JC as he has learned from me. Not only have I developed skills as a tutor, but also have been introduced to another individual’s unique perception of the world. As a student living on campus, it can be all too easy sometimes to get caught up in the “Richmond bubble.” My weekly sessions with JC help to break that bubble by reminding me of the vast diversity of human experiences in the world, and by reinforcing my passion for supporting the immigrant experience in the United States. As JC and I debate whether or not Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Drew Brees, I am reminded that we are all more similar than we think, and in the future I hope to help others find such similarities to bridge the differences that divide them.