I grew up in a family committed to public service and social justice. My father occupied many elected and appointed positions in our town. It was my mother, however, who openly challenged authority figures. From her I learned how to speak truth to power.
My first solo community service took place as a third grader, when I would walk up and down our street collecting garbage thrown out of car windows. In college, my community-engaged work shifted from garbage collection to social activism. My Sociology classes taught me about inequality and the social movements people joined to create social change. These lessons inspired me to participate in a student group devoted to public awareness of the United States’ involvement in Latin America and to work on the presidential campaigns of Gary Hart (yes, I am embarrassed!) and Walter Mondale. In graduate school I organized Take Back the Night marches and participated in protests against Chief Illiniwek.
While some of my professors in graduate school saw activism as undermining one’s ability to be an objective scholar, feminist scholars showed me that social justice work actually enhanced my scholarship. One of the reasons I was attracted to IU South Bend was because the university recognized the value of integrating one’s teaching, scholarship and service.
In my early years at IU South Bend, I used my scholarly expertise in stratification to advocate for disenfranchised groups. I was co-founder of South Bend Equality, a group that worked to increase protections for LGBT people, and participated in a campaign for a living wage. I served a term on South Bend’s Human Rights Commission as well.
Today, most of my community engagement weaves together teaching, research and service, which has probably been my most meaningful and impactful work. I seek service opportunities for my students that deepen their learning and equip them for life after graduation. For instance, students in my Race & Ethnicity course volunteered with La Casa de Amistad’s citizenship class, which encouraged them to apply class lessons about race and citizenship to their community. Students in my capstone course conducted research on community vibrancy for a local initiative, putting their research skills into action on a matter of community importance. In all of my community-courses, students develop the skills and resilience needed to navigate real-life challenges.
Once I became a full professor, my research agenda shifted to addressing a community need or opportunity. I’ve conducted studies on neighborhood well-being, affordable housing, downtown revitalization, and community vibrancy. All of these studies included student researchers, providing me with an opportunity to teach, serve, and produce scholarship at the same time.
As Director of Community Engagement, I provide resources and support to faculty who use community engagement in their courses. I also arrange developmental opportunities around community engagement for faculty and staff. When local organizations ask to collaborate with IU South Bend, I connect them with faculty, staff, and students who can support their work. I am also involved with intercampus committees that foster relationships between community partners and institutions of higher education, which support the missions of each. One part of my position that I especially enjoy is increasing the visibility of IU South Bend’s community engagement through our website and social media. These efforts also celebrate the faculty, staff, and students making a difference in our community. I feel privileged to serve as Director of Community Engagement because it allows me to connect campus and community in ways that support the common good.