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Higher Ed Anchor Institutions & Communities: What does it mean to be civically & socially responsible for a full participation democracy?

Transcription of this #CivicChat can be found here.

Increasingly, and with mixed success, universities are moving beyond knowledge creation and into the arena of engagement--making more direct contributions to their local community.  There has become a greater awareness of the role anchor institutions’ civic engagement--major local, place-based nonprofit institutions including hospitals and higher education institutions--can play in strengthening the physical, social and economic resilience of their surrounding urban communities.  

In great part because they are sizable businesses themselves with substantial purchasing and investing dollars, universities are thought to be well positioned to spur the economic revitalization of inner cities.

For example, Howard University’s housing rehabilitation program, the University of Pennsylvania’s purchasing program, Columbia University’s minority hiring program, and Virginia Commonwealth University’s technology transfer initiative highlight varied successes within diverse institutional type anchor initiatives.

However, can universities as anchor institutions impact systemic issues?

While anchor institution initiatives and higher education civic engagement are more generally receiving recognition, a new term, liberation engagement, has emerged where the desired outcome is the co-creation of knowledge to address systemic problems that oppress people within the democracy.  This new term--coined by Monica P. Smith--originates from among a specific higher education institutional type, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

In addition to supporting local employment, engaged HBCUs can contribute to the resilience of their communities in other ways. For example, Smith points out, “When HBCUs were founded, the systemic problem liberation engagement sought to solve was oppression manifested as physical bondage.”

Smith also articulates the relationship of engaged HBCUs and current day systemic social issues noting, “Through time, the systemic problem was still oppression but took the form of Jim Crow, segregation and today it is oppression manifested as mass incarceration, voter suppression and myriad other forms of institutionalized racism….At engaged HBCUs, liberation engagement is focused on the amelioration of the systemic problem of Black oppression and the simultaneous mitigation of the current consequences of that oppression.”

While research has not been done to identify specific examples of liberation engagement at Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs), it is very likely that many exist. Addressing oppressive issues, in partnership with the oppressed community, such as LGBTQ issues, women’s issues, disability issues, religious issues, and myriad others would be examples of liberation engagement.

The identification of liberation engagement as a way of institutional practice could not come at a more critical time in our nation’s history as we grapple with the state of our democracy around, race, racial violence, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Its emergence at this time also acts as ripe opportunity for institutional leaders, practitioners and publicly engaged scholars to revisit our understanding of civic and democratic engagement. 

All of these factors underline the importance of the conversation we will be having during the October 24th CivicSalon Twitter chat. We will focus on the role of universities as anchor institutions, and how they address systemic social issues in their civic engagement work:

  • University presidents as drivers of community engagement on their campuses;

  • Engagement models that differ – civic, democratic and liberation; and

  • Engagement practice that ensures the inclusion of the local community and impactful implementation.

The questions we’ll explore include:

  • When thinking about colleges and universities working with their local communities, how are the terms civic, democratic, and liberation engagement different?

  • How should higher education institutions that consider themselves to be anchor institutions approach the systemic issues (i.e., K-12 public education attainment gaps, environmental racism, etc.) of their community?

  • What are the intrinsic values of HBCUs that lead to civic or liberation engagement? And how have those values been core to HBCUs since their founding? How do they manifest today?

  • How do HBCU presidents demonstrate and provide leadership in driving an alternative to the “poverty study” narrative that so commonly frames the civic or liberation engagement of other higher education institutional types?

  • How do organizations such as UNCF demonstrate and drive civic or liberation engagement?

  • How does the unique mission of HBCUs qualify them as anchor institutions and change the way we think about anchor institutions’ ability to further democracy for all citizens?

  • How can calls for more intentional social justice outcomes of urban systems redefine colleges/universities as institutional citizens in cities?

  • How does your campus or organization hear, acknowledge, and uplift community voice?

  • What is the unique impact of HBCUs in their communities and how can we ensure that they add intrinsic value?

  • How can recent civil rights issues encourage more liberation engagement on HBCU campuses and beyond?

  • What is the continued role of HBCUs in promoting a liberation engagement mindset in their students and communities in the current political and social climate of the U.S.?

  • In today’s political climate, does democracy allow for oppressed communities to act toward their liberation from problems created by the democracy? And what is role of colleges/universities in that work?

This #civicchat hosted by CivicSalon invites you to explore these pressing issues and share your ideas and experiences related to universities as anchor institutions, community engagement, and systemic social issues.  

Please join this important discussion with our panel of experts:

Dr. Wayne Frederick, President, Howard University - (Invited)

Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, President, Central State University - (Invited) 

Dr. Walter Kimbrough, President, Dillard University - (Invited) 

Dr. Elmira Mangum (Former President, 2014-2016), Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University - (Invited) 

Dr. David Maurrasse, President, Marga, Inc. (Organizer of the Anchor Institution Task Force) - (Invited) 

Dr. Colette Pierce-Burnette, President, Huston-Tillotson University - (Accepted) 

Dr. Andrew Seligsohn, President, Campus Compact - (Invited) 

Dr. Monica P Smith, Higher Ed Consultant - (Accepted) 

Dr. Michael Sorrell, President, Paul Quinn College - (Accepted) 

Dr. David Wilson, President, Morgan State University - (Invited)

It’s easy to join the Twitter chat. Just follow #civicchat on Twitter from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST on Tues., October 24th and share your thoughts. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can watch the conversation unfold here and type in #CivicChat #HigherEdEngagement.

Earlier Event: April 20
Later Event: February 20