Calling In, Community, Relationships and Results

May 31, 2021

Eric Hartman 

I hope you’re doing OK. To say it’s been a hard year is only to demonstrate the insufficiency of language. Through so much pain, many days the most we can wish for is that the darkness around us is not of the tomb but of the womb. That orientation toward regeneration reminds us of Arundhati Roy’s hope for the pandemic as a portal; a critical rupture that, “we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Yet everyday, declarations of great change couple with re-solidification of old inequities. 

How does social change actually happen? What is your role? We’ll be taking up those kinds of questions this week at the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, as we work with students selected for summer internships on just a few of the dozens of learning modules in the Global Solidarity, Local Actions Toolkit. Through our orientation, we aim to draw learners into discussion on the meaning of organizer adrienne maree brown’s assertion: 

“We mistakenly operate as individuals when we are already ecosystem – this is keeping us from the growth we and our communities desperately need.” 

Personally, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on a collective calling in.  Whether it’s adrienne maree brown above or Robin Wall Kimmerer below, I’m seeing scores of examples – and specifically examples from BIPOC individuals – calling us to take responsibility for one another. 

“Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them.”  

This past week I got to see The Collaborative community of practice reconnect and expand in a conversation with a few newer and long-standing collaborative members, facilitated by E. Elliott Hartman (no relation). I also had the opportunity to put some finishing touches on a co-authored chapter draft for an upcoming volume on education and the Sustainable Development Goals. Both of these moments, coupled with an extraordinary interview David Scobey did with College Unbound’s Adam Bush and my home campus preparation for working with this year’s selected group of summer interns, reinvigorated my reflections on the relationships among individuals and structural change. 

In social science, there’s often a dichotomization of the personal and the structural. Eve Tuck has pushed back on that in Suspending damage: A letter to communities, writing, 

“it  is  often  believed  that  people  are  bound  to  reproduce  or  replicate  social  inequity  or, on the flip side, that they can resist unequal social conditions. Critics on both sides accuse the other  of  oversimplifying,  or  underestimating  the  immense  and  totalizing  power  of  systematic oppression  on  the  one  hand  and  the  radical  power  of  the  human  spirit  and  human  agency  on the  other…. Desire… is  neither/both/and  reproduction  and  resistance.  This  is important because  it  more  closely  matches  the  experiences  of  people  who,  at  different  points  in  a  single day, reproduce, resist, are complicit in, rage against, celebrate, throw up hands/fists/towels, and withdraw and participate in uneven social structures – that is, everybody.” 

After saying my A-Men to Dr. Tuck’s insights, I also want to add that in the articulation of personal-structural tension, we often miss the critical conveyance: community. Community bridges and builds the dynamic between personal and structural change.  

Community is a nest of relationships where ideas are socialized, where dreams are hatched and sketched into plans, where resources are pooled, where study occurs, where dialogue creates new meaning, new knowledge, and new opportunity. “The Community” may be a place, or it may overlap with place. But  the most essential element is meaningful relationship and connection. One of the things I loved so much from the College Unbound podcast was listening to that intentionality of community-building, breaking bread, pausing together around a shared table – and repurposing the privileges of awarding academic credit to better align with that real work of community building and connection – as critical elements in learning together. 

Co-writing a chapter draft with Samantha Brandauer, Erin Sabato, and Nora Reynolds, one of our key insights about using the Global Solidarity, Local Actions Toolkit in courses and programs this past academic year was that each use was fundamentally interactive with and strengthened by the community of users involved, along with their contexts. Here’s an excerpt:  

By inviting learners into dialogue with key concepts, the pages collectively enact the insights of embracing student strengths and cultural wealth, while recognizing community-based assets and desires. At its core the toolkit is a set of prompts that invite learners to a conversation that socializes key concepts such as the SDGs, considers local instances of application, and encourages adaptation of the toolkit moving forward. It is only through locally contextualized understanding that human rights and SDGs advance in a sustainable manner. The examples of toolkit usage below illustrate this, showing how different populations of users or learners, from community college students to graduate students and staff and faculty members at selective colleges, experience, apply, and contribute to the toolkit in different ways. 

These reflections all return, of course, to the Collaborative’s long-standing orientation toward community-driven values, embracing and amplifying the “nothing about us without us” orientation that informs critical concepts in activist movements, participatory methods, community-based global learning, and Fair Trade Learning. One of the less visible realities about FTL origins is that the desires that informed FTL began in historically marginalized places and communities. Most notably commitments to community-driven projects and participatory budgeting were solidified in collaboration with the Association of Clubs and Matthias Brown in Petersfield, Jamaica. Those commitments and other Fair Trade Learning principles were then reviewed by collaborators around the world, across organizations and contexts. 

Along with many other folks who write for some significant part of their work-life, I played a role formalizing those desires. But we got to them because we were listening, and we advanced them in a manner that is somewhat open because we recognize the great diversity of cultures, communities, contexts, and partnerships across this work. That is, again, abstract principles are often irrelevant, whereas critical questions may be contextualized in specific cultures, communities, and contexts. Through community consideration, we wrestle with, reimagine, and repurpose structures of international exchange and civic and global learning. Years ago, we struggled with this openly in a chapter “Ethical Global Partnerships: Leadership from the Global South.” Here’s the abstract: 

Fair Trade Learning (FTL), takes an abiding commitment to reciprocity as a foundational assumption. This commitment to reciprocity grew from a partnership with a community organization in rural Jamaica, and therefore has its genesis in the Global South (Hartman, 2015; Hartman, Paris, & Blache-Cohen, 2012, 2014). However, the individuals who have been the primary presenters of and authors about FTL are from the Global North. While there are some defensible reasons for this, this pattern of Northern authorship embodies a conflict with the commitments intended by FTL standards, which include deliberate co-generation and co-production of knowledge as components of reciprocity (Hartman, 2015; Hartman, Paris, & Blache-Cohen, 2014). This chapter first considers the practical repercussions of coupling the notion of global standards with continuous commitment to co-generation and co-ownership, while highlighting the importance of embracing that struggle. It then shares perspectives on FTL standards from development and academic professionals in India and South Africa. Finally, it concludes with recommendations for deliberate coupling of standards, continuous criticality, and commitment to co-generation.

You can access the entire pre-publication chapter draft here

The Collaborative is itself a calling-in to community – in specific localized ways, as well as across partnerships spanning the globe. That community manifests in partnerships between campuses and social justice organizations around the world, and in peer learning among cohorts of faculty, staff, and students. The Collaborative invites conversation and principled confrontation. Its structure builds from assembling a breadth of resources, forming a community of practice, evaluating and assessing toward improvement, organizing around shared queries for ethical partnerships, and animating localized conversations and educational environments with critical global analysis and action for solidarity

In conversations on our own campuses, in community-campus partnerships, in the areas where we live – throughout our lives and relationships – many of us are dedicated to building more just, inclusive, sustainable communities through aspirationally decolonial community-based learning and research. The scope and scale of advancing work that is “aspirationally decolonial” involves our hearts and our minds, reimagining core assumptions that are deeply embedded. That’s why we must walk and talk together, carefully, intentionally, while forgiving one another for halting, misunderstanding, and imperfection. 

Whether it is welcoming new members of the Collaborative, teaching about SDGs in place-based ways in the United States, stewarding partnerships toward reciprocity and Fair Trade Learning, or finding ways to foment change on our own campuses, in our own communities, and throughout partnerships, community-driven and participatory approaches tell us we will do better, last longer, and sustain change when we walk together. At the Collaborative, we aim to steward and share resources in ways that they are useful for others – and we invite you to do the same. 

We have so much work left to do, together. We are checking-in with members and advancing planning this (US / Northern) summer, and look forward to offering broader events again this fall. In the meantime, if you’re interested in more involvement, you’re always welcome to learn more about membership opportunities and become a member. 

Eric Hartman is a co-founder and executive team member at the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. He serves as executive director of the Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship.

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