Vida Vanchan, Buffalo State College professor of geography and planning, and James Golden, assistant professor of social work, completed separate projects with community organizations over the summer intended to reflect the college’s commitment to social justice and will share their findings with faculty and students as part of the college’s new Social Justice Faculty Externship program.
Vanchan and Golden were the first two faculty members selected for the program, a collaboration between the Equity and Campus Diversity Office and the Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) Office. It stemmed from a meeting with an anonymous donor who envisioned a civically engaged social justice initiative supporting Buffalo State’s urban-engaged anchor mission, explained Laura Hill Rao, CCE director. Each faculty member and partner organization selected to participate in the annual externship receives a $900 to $1,000 stipend per project.
The intention is to investigate the connections between an academic discipline and historical and current systems that affect underrepresented groups, and to revise curricula that bring those connections into the classroom, according to Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, the college’s chief diversity officer.
“I’ve enjoyed working with diverse groups throughout my career. I’m especially passionate about vulnerable populations. The externship was a unique opportunity to use my background and expertise to help immigrants and refugees, of which there are an increasing number in Buffalo.”
“The externship expands our commitment to partner with community organizations and enhances social justice lessons in the classroom,” Rodriguez-Dabney said.
Rao said she learned of a similar program at a conference a few years ago and tucked it away for possibly implementation later.
“Buffalo State is committed to institutional partnerships that address community priorities, provide civic learning, and advance equity, access, and social justice,” she said. “Thanks to this anonymous donor, we have a new avenue for faculty to get involved. These immersive summer experiences can support the work of a community partner, provide experiential learning for faculty, and influence faculty teaching to incorporate equity and social justice in the classroom.”
Vanchan worked with Jericho Road Community Health Center (JRCHC), which offers a number of community programs to help underserved and marginalized communities of Buffalo, including immigrants and refugees. She helped the staff develop a survey instrument to measure the effectiveness of client services in its drop-in center, to assess its operations and processes in the future. She also surveyed 24 members of the staff about their thoughts on social justice and how JRCHC contributes to social justice efforts in Buffalo.
“I’ve enjoyed working with diverse groups throughout my career,” said Vanchan, who serves on the President’s Council on Equity and Campus Diversity and has worked on economic development projects in Southeast Asia. “I’m especially passionate about vulnerable populations. The externship was a unique opportunity to use my background and expertise to help immigrants and refugees, of which there are an increasing number in Buffalo.”
“The externship afforded me an opportunity to partner with an organization in the community to learn how best to channel my interests and contribute to change, rather than simply talking about it.”
Golden, meanwhile, worked with Open Buffalo, a community collaborative to advance racial, economic, and ecological justice, to develop a computer-based interactive curriculum focusing on environmental issues affecting the city of Buffalo. He also assisted the organization in securing a grant for $20,000 to implement a leadership program.
“Although I’m quite passionate and outspoken about issues of social justice, I realized that neither of those had yet translated into substantive action,” Golden said. “The externship afforded me an opportunity to partner with an organization in the community to learn how best to channel my interests and contribute to change, rather than simply talking about it.”
Both of these organizations aid underserved groups, which is the population the donor had in mind, Rao said, adding that many Buffalo State students face similar obstacles as the individuals served by Western New York community organizations.
“We asked ourselves: What kind of experience might help faculty understand the issues facing both our students and community members?”
Thus, the pilot program emerged and is expected to be repeated annually.
Vanchan and Golden will present their findings to the campus community in November. They are also writing about their experience for possible publication in academic journals.
For the pilot, Rao said, they intentionally opened applications only to members of the Social Justice Subcommittee of the President’s Council on Equity and Campus Diversity.
“We knew that people within this group were invested in this type or work and could give us feedback about the experience and how we can build upon it next year,” she said. “After their presentations in November, we’ll launch an application to the entire campus for summer 2022. I hope we get a robust group of applicants by early to mid-spring.”
Another goal of the social justice externship is to recognize the efforts of the community partners and collaborations with Buffalo State.
“As our office continues to investigate the work we do in the community, it’s important to recognize how our partners really invest in student learning,” Rao said. “We want to find new ways to support that willingness and sustain those collaborations.”
Photos by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.
Portraits courtesy of Vida Vanchan and James Golden.