Community, Identity, and Engagement: Outcomes of the SOAS 2007 Retreat

On Friday, January 12, 2007, a day when most were savoring the last full week before the start of Spring classes, more than 100 faculty, staff, and guests of the School of Arts and Sciences gathered in Retreat to deliberate on the topic of Community, Identity, and Engagement.  Dr. Kenneth Reardon, now at Cornell University and nationally known for community-based planning in severely stressed urban areas, presented dynamic, engaging keynote remarks which highlighted the evolution and current status of community and higher ed interactions.  His personal involvement with the award-winning East St. Louis Action Research Project demonstrated the importance of full participation by community members (local citizens and government leaders) as well as college representatives in any community-based project.  To quote Dr. Reardon, “Let the citizens decide what is important.” 

Fully engaged audience members at the retreat included Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll (above, with Ken Reardon)and State Representative John Keenan (D-Salem), both of whom later conducted workshops in which they applied Dr. Reardon's points to discuss real, needed actions for the city and region.  Suggestions arising in the Mayor’s workshop included: 

  1. a.Develop the “we” in Salem State partnerships with the city and its citizens.

  2. b.Develop better connections among the service activities that do exist.

  3. c.Establish clear goals and objectives for partnered projects (e.g., social justice, economic improvement).

  4. d.Address the spread between the “haves” and “have nots.”

  5. e.Discuss ways to integrate the Latino community with the greater Salem community, including the college.

Representative Keenan’s workshop emphasized the importance of the college selling itself and its liberal arts and sciences strengths in a practical way for the community.  He pointed to our aquaculture program as an example of a successful outreach and community-oriented program. A total of ten workshops met during the retreat, and by 2:30 pm Dr. Reardon, in a final town meeting-style discussion, elicited 27 different action items.  Those receiving the greatest support from the still animated crowd included:

  1. a.Form an advisory committee at the college level to suggest community-college partnerships and suitable goals and activities.

  2. b.Identify new approaches to working with the Latino community.

  3. c.Appoint and support a service learning coordinator.

  4. d.Develop a seed grant program to provide start-up money for community-based programs.

  5. e.Encourage attendance at meetings of community-based organizations.

  6. f.Develop a Faculty Institute focused on community-based activities. 

A new aspect of this year’s retreat was the lunch hour display of posters created by faculty describing community-action programs already in place.  These elicited a great deal of interest, and the posters have been on view in the Faculty Dining Room on a rotating basis for the last few weeks.

Once again, the School of Arts and Sciences has generated programmatic excitement through interdisciplinary discussion.  We are grateful to the SOAS Strategic Planning Committee for sponsoring this event and for the energies exerted by each and every participant toward enhancing productive community engagements as part of our academic goals. 

Before I close, I want to draw your attention to the articles in this issue written by our brand new tenure-track faculty.  I am totally awed by the breadth and depth of their presentations.  One of the College's goals is to increase diversity of faculty and their perspectives; if these six writers are representative of our community, we are well on our way to achieving that goal.

Anita Shea, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences

Navigator is a regular feature of ASpect. It consists of observations by the Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences on matters of interest to the entire school.



Volume 29

March 2007