Journal of Global Social Work Practice, Volume 4, Number 1, May/June 2011
A University-Community Partnership Model for Capacity-Building and Collective Learning with Individuals of Immigrant and Refugee Experience: The Example of the Hartland Partnership Center
The needs and strengths of immigrant and refugee backgrounds are multifaceted. As newcomers in the community many residents lack the necessary language skills, as well as social and cultural capital necessary to navigate new social service systems. While families struggle to integrate into a new culture, social service systems with increasingly fewer resources struggle to respond to their needs. University-community partnerships provide an environment that combines and redistributes the resources of higher education and the community’s knowledgebase. The result is capacity-building at multiple levels. This paper will present a case study of the Hartland Partnership Center, a higher education-community partnership focused on capacity-building and collective learning. As part of the case study, faculty, students, residents, and community organizations were brought together to exchange knowledge and effect systemic change.
Keywords: university-community partnerships, immigrant and refugee background, community capacity-building, reciprocity
Education continues to be viewed as the great equalizer throughout the changing social, economic, and political environments. However, in recent decades, there has been an increasing demand for universities to reflect and evaluate themselves. They are being asked to assess how they carry out their educational mission and whether or not the knowledge transmitted is useful to the surrounding communities and contributes to the public good (Boyer, 1996; Chibucos & Lerner, 1999; Ishisaka, Farwell, Sohng, & Uehara, 2004; Haveman & Smeeding, 2006). In response to this critique, higher education-community partnerships have been formed as models for creating systemic change in universities, colleges, and community organizations (Rosner-Salazar, 2003). Many of these partnerships have demonstrated success in the areas of community-capacity-building or community empowerment. Promoting social development and healthcare for underserved communities has been an especially successful area (Fawcett et al., 1995; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003; Roussos & Fawcett, 2000). By providing an environment that validates the community’s knowledgebase, these partnerships lead to the institutionalization of engaged learning and community-based research within academia (Bishop, Taylor, & Arragno, 1997; Seifer & Calleson, 2004).
There is still little in the literature, however, that discusses how university-community partnerships can build the capacity of new immigrant communities to increase their access to services while simultaneously making systemic changes to reduce the barriers they face. Often the literature discusses the development, or capacity-building of communities, and ignores how communities can develop or build the capacity of systems or institutions such as universities. This article presents a case study that speaks to this topic. The article provides a theoretical framework, followed by a description of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP). Next, one specific UNP partnership, the Hartland Partnership Center, is examined as a case example of the model. The case example is followed by a discussion of university-community partnerships as a model for capacity-building. As part of the discussion, the authors identify reoccurring patterns in the model. Two such patterns are re-centering community knowledge and involving residents from immigrant and refugee backgrounds in community leadership and cultural consultantancy.
Since the 1970s, Latin American philosophers such as Jose Ortega y Gasset and Paulo Freire have argued that holders of knowledge are communities, not academic institutions. Furthermore, they recognized community members and organizations as knowledge creators, and lived experiences as valid knowledge. In contrast to positivistic traditions, this scholarship is not seen as neutral, but rather as a vehicle for promoting social justice. For Freire, “…the purpose of education is liberation.” People must become active subjects of their own learning rather than passive objects or recipients of information. Freire’s assertion is later built upon by Bell Hooks who states that the learning process must be reciprocal and mutual. One example of this learning process is research in which the inquirer is impacted and transformed along with the participants. Because the inquirer also participates, he or she brings his or her own narrative and interpretation into the relationship and the work (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003).
In addition to the above traditions, social constructivism and critical social theories, including feminist theories and participatory paradigms, ground and guide the development of community-based scholarship (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003; Israel, Lichtenstein, Lantz, McGranaghan, Allen, Guzman, Softley, & Maciak, 2001).Social constructivism and critical social theories provide an alternative lens to positivistic academic traditions and its beliefs that scientific knowledge and its pursuits should be objective, neutral, and value free. Positivism also believes in the separation of the inquirer and the participants in research studies. Social constructivism states that scientific knowledge is socially constructed along with other social realities, and thus is influenced by social, cultural and historical contexts. In the pursuit of knowledge, the inquirers and participants are connected and their relationships impact the findings. Critical social theories emphasize the importance of examining social, political, economic, cultural, racial, ethnic, and gender factors impacting people and their realities. Perhaps even more fundamental to critical theories is its examination of the unjust distribution of power and the privileging of dominant groups’ social constructs (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003; Israel, Lichtenstein, Lantz, McGranaghan, Allen, Guzman, Softley, & Maciak, 2001). These theories highlight the need to challenge oppressive structures, relationships, and mechanisms that maintain oppression based on race, gender, and class. In the context of the university-community partnerships, these theories urge us to integrate the structural and social context of all people, to see strengths, not just victimization when working with marginalized communities, and to shift structures and dynamics in order to promote social justice (Maguire, 2001).
With this foundation in the context of scholarship, the following principles have been developed (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003; Israel, Lichtenstein, Lantz, McGranaghan, Allen, Guzman, Softley, & Maciak, 2001):
And the following list from Israel, Lichtenstein, Lantz, McGranaghan, Allen, Guzman, Softley, and Maciak (2001) include the rationale or the intended outcomes of this type of process.
Founded in 2001, by the University of Utah’s President, the mission of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), is to “Bring together University and west side resources for reciprocal learning, action, and benefit...a community coming together (Office for Equity and Diversity, 2007, ¶1). The critical issues on which UNP focuses its work emerged through nine months of extensive personal interviews with more than 250 local residents, representatives of community organizations, faith-based organizations, and university faculty, students, and staff. This research yielded the following priority areas (University Neighborhood Partners, 2007a):
The vision and values of UNP were created as guiding foundation for working in these priority areas. The vision of UNP is:
The University and west side neighborhoods are seamlessly interwoven into a community based on mutual discovery and learning rooted in diverse life experiences. Through collaborative partnerships we create higher education opportunities for community members, enriched university research and teaching opportunities, and an enhanced quality of life for all (UNP Advisory Board Handbook 2010, unpublished).
The values read:
In 2003, UNP was awarded a community outreach partnership center (COPC) grant, which provided the funding for the department to establish its primary goals, geographic focus, and partnerships. Since 1994, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) program has awarded grants to help colleges and universities establish and operate COPCs. As a result, these institutions of higher education are able to carry out, outreach and applied research activities that will address problems in urban areas. This program also sought to encourage structural changes, not only within an institution but also in the way the institution relates to its neighborhood. The COPC grant programs create resources and opportunities not otherwise available for both institutions of higher education, and the communities where they are located. Many institutions of higher education are beginning to reach beyond the more traditional field of engagement, such as health and education to less traditional areas such as financial literacy, employment, housing, citizenship, and cultural preservation projects. Originally, the grants provided an institution with three years of funding, many of which were followed by applications to HUD’s New Direction grants program. Unfortunately, the COPC programs have not been funded since 2005 (Office of Community Partnerships, 2010).
The University of Utah provides the majority of UNP’s administrative costs, including 56% of the total program budget. Remaining program costs (including funds to support university and community residents, and organizations to run programs) are raised through personal giving, grant writing, as well as corporate and foundation support. Today, UNP’s goals continue to focus on intensifying and integrating the institution’s community engagement activities in underserved and high poverty neighborhoods. The goals also seek to broaden the institution’s mission toward civically engaged scholarship by expanding opportunities for faculty and students to learn with and alongside residents and community organizations; to increase opportunities for underrepresented populations to pursue higher education; and to increase diversity within the institution’s student body and future faculty.
While the main campus of the University of Utah is located on the east-side of Salt Lake City, UNP’s physical location and geographic focus is seven of Salt Lake City’s west side neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods of focus, families experience multiple challenges. Challenges often stem from confusion and mistrust of the local public series that are not equipped to handle the rapidly diversifying population. Unlike the stereotype of Utah, these multi-layered communities are rich in diversity and home to 60,000 of the city’s 180,000 residents. More than 60% of west side residents are minorities compared to only 16% of the overall population of Salt Lake City. These neighborhoods serve as primary entry communities and are sites of rapid change. The Latina/o population has more than doubled in 10 years to 40% of the area population. Statistics also show that 80% of Salt Lake City’s refugee-background communities reside in these west side neighborhoods (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Between 1983 and 2005, more than 15,000 refugees arrived in Utah. Refugees represent 10.9% of the foreign born population arriving between 1990 and 2000. Moreover, 4,248 refugees arrived between 2000 and 2005 (Utah Refugee Services Office, 2009). The urban landscape of the west side neighborhoods is a mixture of industrial parks, railroad lines, and freeway systems bordering a low income area, which creates a physical barrier for easy access to essential services for the west side densely populated residential areas.
“A story that shares knowledge is about problems, solutions and explanations” (Denning, 2005). The case study takes place at the Hartland Partnership Center, one of thirty higher education-community partnership programs developed by UNP. The College of Social Work is a lead partner. The mission of the Hartland Partnership Center is to bring together University faculty, students, community agencies, and residents to co-design and implement programs with the families living at the Seasons at Pebble Creek (formerly Hartland Apartments) and the surrounding communities. Partners involved work together to build upon one another’s strengths in an effort to facilitate programming that develops community capacity and overcomes many economic, linguistic, and social barriers (University Neighborhood Partners, 2007c). The 300 apartment units are home to an evolving international community of over 1,500 residents from around the world. In 2006, the ethnic breakdown of Hartland residents was as follows: 36.7% African, 25.5% Hispanic (Latina/o), 15% Bosnian, 7% Caucasian, 4.2% African American, 3.3% Middle Eastern, and 2.3 % Pacific Islanders. Ninety percent of the Hartland community lives below the poverty threshold, and 67% make less than $10,000 annually (Evergreene Managment, 2006). While over the years, there has been some turn over in the population, such as a growing number of Latina/o families and Karen and Burundi refugees, the complex continues to be a strong and international community.
The problem – and the opportunity
The needs and strengths of the Hartland community are multifaceted because the majority of the residents are recent arrivals to the United States (U.S.). As newcomers who have settled in the community as immigrants or following refugee experiences, many residents lack the language skills and the social and cultural capital necessary to navigate social services and health care systems (Goodkind, 2005; Guinn & Vincent, 2002). UNP staff and partners believed that developing a residentially-based program would eliminate two of the most common reasons why Hartland residents were not utilizing existing services. Such reasons include a lack of child care and transportation options (Mercy Housing, 2006). In 2004, UNP approached the Hartland property owners and proposed to offer a community learning center onsite, staffed by university faculty, students, and community partners in exchange for donated space.
The Hartland Partnership Center opened its doors in August 2004 in a three-bedroom apartment. The apartments serve as an education and community center for residents of the Season at Pebble Creek (formally the Hartland Apartments). Here teams of professors, students, community organizations, and Hartland residents work together to address the needs and maximize the talents of each individual. Each year, the Center added new academic partners and community organizations. By 2007, the Center had added a second and third apartment, housing the youth programs and a Head Start Center. The Hartland Partnership Centers have become a place of learning and practice for all stakeholder groups. On an annual basis the partnership engages, over 90 university students from nine academic disciplines, 800 community residents, and community partners from 10 social service organizations (University Neighborhood Partners, 2007c). Undergraduate and graduate students, representing linguistics, law, medicine, women’s health, midwifery, nursing, occupational therapy, education, social work, and family and consumer studies are on site.
The following study questions seek to examine if, and how higher education-community partnerships provide an environment that builds the capacity of stakeholders? Whose capacity is developed and how? What are the systems’ resulting changes, both in community organizations and within the academic institution itself? This unique setting with the complexity of partners and stakeholders, naturally led to a case study as our unit of analysis. Anaf, et al. (2007), Bryar (1999), Hancock and Algozzine (2006), Patton (2002), Stake (1995), and Yin (1984; 1989; 1994; and 2003) have written extensively about case study research. These authors examine the strength of case studies when exploratory research is being conducted within or among programs, events, activities, processes and/or individuals.
The solution – redistribution of resources and shared goals
The Hartland Partnership Center offers numerous programs that promote reciprocal sharing and learning. The programs include: language classes, citizenship classes, financial literacy and homebuyer education, early childhood and school readiness programs, youth programs, legal education, health education and screenings, employment and life skills classes, and social work services. These partnership activities are delivered through partnership teams. Figure 1: The Hartland Partnership Chart provides a visual look at the partners on site at the Center and the multiple stakeholders that make up partnership teams. The chart includes the Resident Committee, a group of 10, diverse community leaders who apply to be community liaisons, and cultural consultants for the partnerships on site. In exchange for their community work, Resident Committee members receive stipends that are provided by private donors and foundations. Through regular meetings, the various stakeholder groups guide the development of the partnerships illustrated on the chart. Resident Committee members assist by providing information on community needs and strengths and cultural issues. They also act as a liaison to connect the Center to their specific ethnic communities. This process of incorporating resident knowledge is active in all the partnership teams included in the chart. The chart also illustrates the strong interdisciplinary nature of the Hartland Partnership Center. There are a wide variety of both academic departments as well as non-profit organizations that come together to provide programming. All these partnerships are supported by a combination of local foundations, corporations, and United Way funding. UNP grant writers are active in raising funds that provide a variety of support mechanisms. Such funds go towards resident stipends, faculty buyout time, graduate student stipends, and supporting non-profits expansion of existing programs to the Hartland Partnership Center.
Figure 1: The Hartland Partnership Chart
The explanation – capacity building and system change
The Hartland Higher Education-Community Partnership Model focuses on capacity building. Capacity-building in the context of community has been defined as building on organizational or individual assets, or increasing the availability of commitment, skills, resources and problem-solving abilities of an individual, organization or system (Chaskin, 2001). Other definitions emphasize community empowerment and determination (Fawcett, 1995; Chaskin, 2001). Capacity-building has also been defined as the cultivation of transferable knowledge, skills, systems and resources, increases in skills, information flow or resources to affect systems, or a continual process by different entities to increase their abilities to function, solve problems, define and achieve objectives, address development needs in a sustainable manner (Baillie, Bjarnholt, Gruber & Hughes, 2008).
Brown, Lafond, and Macintyre’s (2001) definition seems to fit our practice model best. They define building capacity as “A process that improves the ability of a person, group, organization, or system to meet its objectives or to perform better.” They also conceptualize capacity-building as a multi-dimensional process that should impact performance positively at each level and the interaction or relationship between the levels. For example, in the health sector, these levels include the health system, organization, health personnel, and individual/community. The same could be applied to human service or educational systems (Brown, Lafond, & Macintyre, 2001).
The applied philosophy that all stakeholders have knowledge to share is central to the capacity-building model at the Center. Individuals who have been through a refugee and/or immigrant experience can share their many strengths and resources. Some of those strengths include communal support systems, strong family support, diverse cultural knowledge, and commitment to cultural preservation, international perspectives, a holistic approach to well-being, a history of resiliency and survival, and a strong sense of spirituality.
Similarly, higher education and community organizations can share their resources to build on the knowledge and skills of all stakeholders. They bring financial and human resources, social networks, practice experience and academic knowledge. Because these partnerships bring together multiple academic disciplines, they build on the knowledge and skills that exist within these areas and integrate diverse theoretical, practical, and methodological knowledge (Rosenﬁeld, 1992). Similarly, interdisciplinary partnerships integrate multiple bodies of knowledge and strategies in order to analyze and address the social issues at hand (Aagaard-Hansen & Ouma, 2002). The partnerships value multiple ways of knowing. Ultimately they provide a more in-depth analysis of social issues and foster innovative solutions to immediate problems. The creation of such a space increases the likelihood that innovations will be used to beneﬁt society (Hoehner, Brennan, Brownson, Handy, & Killingsworth, 2003). Consequently, by working in interdisciplinary partnerships, using this model helps systems address other issues such as health care, social services, education, law, and business.
Through the College of Social Work academic and professional training structures, the knowledge and experiences of the community is gathered and disseminated to faculty, students, K-12 schools, and community organizations providing services to resettling families. In partnership with faculty, Resident Committee members meet regularly to collect and document community knowledge. Next, Resident Committee members formalize and share this information through the following three vehicles: (a) Immigration and Resettlement: Interdisciplinary and Community Perspectives, a new university credit-bearing course that includes students and community partners; (b) Cultural Orientation and Trainings, a faculty and resident co-led training for education, health, and social service organizations; and (c) the Resident Leaders Employment Program, a vehicle to place community residents in formal roles leading to employment with area schools and human service organizations.
In its fourth year, the Immigration and Resettlement course is one of the formal mechanisms for higher education and community partners to co-create knowledge and affect system change. Students and community partners (Resident Committee members and representative of community organizations) partnering at the Center attend a semester-long, credit-bearing course. This class is cross-listed with the College of Social Work and the Division of Occupational Therapy. It includes faculty members participating at the Hartland Partnership Center who serve as guest lecturers with members of the Resident Committee. In this way, faculty and residents co-teach the seminar, exploring the complexity of immigration and integration issues within the community, and examine social, political, and economic topics from different disciplinary perspectives. Resident narratives reflecting stories of migration, cultural perspectives of childhood, family, education, health and mental health are incorporated as class readings for the course. Based on their model of shared storytelling, the narratives are more than the common tales of civil war, conflict, migration, culture shock, and hard times. The stories are places where children play and go to school, where people work and where communities celebrate and grieve. In an effort to move the identity of the Hartland residents’ home countries from a place of crisis to a place of richness and vibrancy, residents describe aspects of their lives to serve as a teaching tool for students enrolled in Immigration and Resettlement. In this way, residents’ knowledge is linked directly to student learning and part of the curriculum. The interdisciplinary course represents an important step in validating the knowledge of residents and bringing that knowledge base to higher education. This course builds the capacity of all stakeholders and broadens the way in which the institution defines accesses and distributes knowledge, and prepares students for multi-cultural practice.
In addition to the university setting, the Resident Committee members in partnership with the social work faculty and students have taken their Cultural Orientation Training presentations into community social service agencies, health care settings and K-12 school settings. Cultural Orientation Trainings are conducted by Resident Committee members who go in groups of two or three residents from different countries of origin in order to emphasize the importance of diversity within diversity. In addition they provide an overview of cultural information for the primary populations resettling in the area and suggestions for how organizations can best support new arriving families. Similar to the resident narratives, members rely on their unique understandings of the systemic differences between their native countries and the U.S. to inform local systems of the differences and disconnects that they experience. They also highlight the strengths within their communities that are not fully utilized. The focus of this approach has been effective in empowering individuals of immigrant and refugee-backgrounds to be formally acknowledged as experts by the organizations that serve them. In the same way, service organizations begin to develop relationships with new arriving populations, focusing on strengths rather than deficits and begin to experience integration as a two-way process. Social work academic partners contribute their access to service organizations and assist with coordination and development of trainings. These mutually beneficial relationships assist the partners in gaining new research opportunities and knowledge that leads to new social work curriculum and publications, while directly benefiting the local community.
As part of the Resident Leaders Employment Program, UNP has been partnering with local organizations and schools to increase the employment opportunities for residents. Initially, UNP provides the funding that enables residents to work with and in the organization. For example, through UNP funding, a Somali parent was employed by Head Start to be a classroom assistant and over a course of two years, was transferred to Head Start funding. During this time, the agency and the resident are able to develop a relationship that is mutually-beneficial. The agency’s capacity is increased because they are able to provide greater assistance to the Somali community and develop more culturally relevant curriculum. With a Somali resident inside the organization, a greater portion of the community accesses these services. At the same time, this parent is receiving income, additional training, and a pathway to sustainable employment. UNP has supported six such positions to date and have found this to be one of the most challenging areas. While organizations are eager to try the model and clearly recognize the benefits, many are stuck with bureaucratic policies that prevent barriers to long-term success and real system change. For example, county and school district partners have policies that limit the number of hours that these positions can be supported at, often keeping individuals in lower paying non-benefited positions. Nevertheless, there has been some success. Though addressing these systemic barriers is time-consuming, they also present an increased opportunity for far reaching systemic change; change that has the potential to impact the broader community. An emerging partnership area is resident success with small business development. In the past few years, residents have been involved with creating small businesses that enable them to earn income. Some examples include the Karen’s Women’s Weaving Project, Blue Nile Catering and Projecto Solo, a Music Production business. Below Figure 2: Community Capacity Building, provides some examples of how the capacity of all stakeholders is built through these partnerships.
At the Center the Hartland Social Work Partnership’s primary purpose is to support an environment of collective learning. The Center is staffed by a supervising faculty, a PhD student and graduate and undergraduate social work interns. In exchange for learning and internship experience, social work students provide daily walk-in assistance to residents. The primary goal is building relationships with residents, a demanding goal that often poses challenges due to cultural and language barriers. With relationships in place, interns play a variety of roles (i.e., collaborator, counselor, broker, mediator, advocate, etc.) in order to support residents in a holistic manner. In addition, social work interns work to build residents’ capacity to access and interface directly with community resources and organizations and to assist others in their community. Students also work with residents in more traditional social work roles by assessing and providing supportive counseling or treatment referrals for pre and post resettlement stress and trauma. Simultaneously, interns and faculty work with community organizations and others to increase the access of residents to services. Social work interns collaborate with residents and other health partners to promote continuity of care and culturally-sensitive assessments and interventions for physical and mental health concerns of patients seen in the Hartland Health Clinic. Students provide outreach and education to residents about healthcare screenings, services, and life skills classes at Hartland and in the surrounding area. Social work interns also receive education from clients about their culture’s medical care and beliefs. As students document and share this information with service providers, schools, and other academic disciplines, they bridge cultural barriers, increase mutual understanding, and build the capacity of all partners.
The Health Partnership started with door-to-door meetings with residents at the apartment complex. Health sciences students conducted a health needs assessment in January of 2004, to investigate this assumption, and to further delineate the health care needs and issues of the Hartland community. Given the multiple languages spoken by residents, this was a challenging process. At the same time, this process also identified the rich resources and multiple language skills of the residents. While English skills among many resident populations were limited, students quickly learned that significant numbers of residents were multi-lingual and would soon serve as community-based translators and cultural consultants. The tables had already turned from needs to strengths. Similarly, the issues of “who is student and who is teacher,” awakened students’ critical thinking and opened the door to extend thought processes to systemic issues.
During the door-to-door student meetings, the Hartland residents cited an inability to afford health care, and a lack of access to health care, as their primary health concerns. Additionally, residents stated that they had negative experiences with the health care system, due to a lack of health insurance, poor communication, and lack of knowledge about accessing care. It was clear that cultural differences exacerbated the difficulties in accessing health care and social services as a whole.
To gain additional cultural clarity and check for relevancy, the needs assessment results were reviewed with the Hartland Resident Committee. Through this process it was determined that on-site services offering basic health screenings and triage, answers to medical questions, a liaison, and referral to health care services enable residents to learn what health care services are available and the process for accessing them. Thus the health partnership was born. Initially, the community-higher education partnership members included the Family Practice Residency Program and the Physician Assistant Program (PA). Both programs were within the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine (DFPM) and providers at the Redwood Health Center, a community clinic. Faculty members from the Residency, PA programs, and a practicing PA from Redwood Health Center began offering basic health screening and referrals one afternoon each week. The health team quickly became interdisciplinary and a social work graduate student was added to the team to assist in health screenings and patient follow-up. Once the health screenings were underway, evidence was found that the majority of residents experienced systemic and institutional barriers. One major barrier was the lack of insurance. To address this barrier, the Health Access Project (HAP), which coordinates charity care referrals throughout Salt Lake City, recruited a new health partner. HAP now provides on-site registration for their services.
During the fall of 2005, the Resident Committee approached the Health Partnership Steering Committee and the faculty from the College of Nursing to review the resident needs, as identified by residents themselves. It was determined that Health Education would be the most beneficial service the nursing program could provide. This resulted in a qualitative study where students interviewed 75 residents, through existing resident groups, with the purpose of determining specific health care needs and nursing services. The interviews were conducted across age, gender, and cultural groups. The use of existing groups aided in the establishment of trusting relationships among people who have significant history of living in a society of mistrust and oppression.
The primary identified needs were posttraumatic stress, hygiene, childcare, child spacing, access to medical care, use of preventive medical services, and nutrition. From the results of the study, and with input from the Resident Committee, The College of Nursing faculty and UNP staff approached Utah Health and Human Rights and Valley Mental Health to address the issues of posttraumatic stress. Both of these agencies have practitioners and teams that focus in this area and could provide the necessary expertise to address these issues in a long-term and more sustainable way. Simultaneously, College of Nursing faculty and service learning students developed the curriculum for a health education series. The curriculum units included: basic hygiene, nutrition, food handling and storage, immunizations, child spacing, how to identify an emergency from non-emergency, first aid, and the health care system and your rights. The cultural and ethnic demographics of the community dictated that the classes be taught in Spanish and Somali. Classes were designed using hands-on teaching techniques and visual aides to enhance learning. The series began in the summer of 2006 and it was evident that the residents were eager for the information. Beginning in 2007, these courses have been merged with another Hartland partner – English Language Skills Center. Collaboratively, the health education curriculum has been integrated into the ongoing English language classes taught at the Center. The nursing students teach the health related content sessions, allowing for a wider audience for the content as well as decreasing the demand for translation services.
Below Figure 2 provides a summary of some examples of how the capacity of all stakeholders is built through these partnerships and programs. The chart provides some examples of the impact of these partnerships on each stakeholder group. For example, in this setting, university students are immersed in an interdisciplinary learning site that incorporates and values the knowledge of residents. Student practicum evaluations highlight the uniqueness of this setting because it provides rich diversity that students describe as “similar to an international experience.” At the same time, students are able to staff cases from a community practice model with a host of professionals from 10 disciplines and perspectives. Similarly, the chart illustrates the impact on resident stakeholders who have reported gaining greater access to higher education and social services with university professors and students, and practitioners on site. Additionally, the capacity of residents is built through earning university credit or receiving stipends that compensate them and validate the knowledge they bring to the partnerships.
Figure 2: Community Capacity Building across Stakeholder Groups
The work has just begun and UNP has a long way to go, but the process has already started to produce some of the intended benefits stated earlier in this paper. Residents in formal, paid positions, have increased the relevance and validity of courses, and research, for both community and university stakeholders. Such residents have directly impacted the types of programs at Hartland. Together, community organizations, residents, and university faculty and students have pooled their individual resources together to run programs in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Through the process, all groups are affected. For example, in the Cultural Orientation Program, faculty and students bring their social capital, access to systems and networks, academic knowledge and organizational capacity. Resident leaders bring their community and cultural knowledge, compelling life experiences, and social networks. Community organizations bring their many systems, staff, and networks. Other systems and voices are addressing complex problems, such as educational and health disparities. As agencies and institutions diversify their knowledge base, they gain greater access to their client populations and increase positive outcomes in service delivery. Furthermore, social work and health care services at Hartland are conducted in an integrated holistic model rather than focusing simply on physical health, mental health, case management, education, or community development. At Hartland, all these components are at play and integrated simultaneously.
In addition to having more relevant perspectives at the problem-solving table, relationships and trust are budding among communities divided by boundaries of class, race, and associated power. Social work faculty, community organizations, and residents collaborate on developing curriculum and assignments. Social work students’ evaluations highlight their own learning of an increased understanding of institutional barriers. In focus groups, students discussed how they entered Hartland viewing themselves as service providers and assuming that people needed help. However, by the end of the first semester, students reported developing cultural humility, profound respect, and admiration for the populations they partnered with. Over the course of their internships, students recognized that they were in mutually-beneficial relationships with residents. In these relationships, students relied on residents for cultural experience, language translation, and access to the multiple international communities at Hartland and in the city. At the same time, residents relied on students to read their mail, help them pay bills and develop a budget. They also learned how to negotiate and access health, education, and social services.
Providing all stakeholders with decision-making authority changes the very nature of how partners set priorities and which cultural practices dominate. For example, student and community organizations are often more comfortable communicating over email and in English. Residents on the other hand, often need to be contacted in person, at their home. This in turn may mean setting aside an hour to enjoy a meal with the family and very little of the conversation will be in English. Beyond problem solving and work, a community space such as the Hartland Partnership Center intentionally lends itself to diverse populations. It encourages people to come together, share life, and learn about each other, bridging communities on a more personal level. Residents and students can be found on the sofa discussing religion, holidays, and families.
At the University of Utah, higher education-community partnerships are defined by tying community engagement to the academic triad of research, teaching, and service. It is upon this academic triad that faculty are evaluated. This approach to community engagement and scholarship provides a wide range of ways for higher education to be present with the community in addressing community-identified issues while still meeting its primary academic mission (Hunter, Munro, Dunn, & Olsen, 2009). UNP has attempted to use its partnerships, programs, and scholarly activities to address power differentials between communities, systems, and institutions (including the University). The addressing of these differentials is guided by critical and constructivist theories, emancipator traditions of education, and principles of community based participatory scholarship. It has created new spaces that privilege community knowledge, experience and voice at both the University and in the community. In addition, dominant groups such as faculty and students are asked to participate, to make visible their social privilege and their cultural context, to participate and be a part of the transformation over a long period of time.
UNP has also seen from its work the shift in resources going into the community, though as previously stated, there are still many challenging systemic barriers for this redistribution. In addition, there is an increase of well-being for some of UNP’s community partners as a result of enhanced control and power over their daily lives and operations. Increasingly residents are entering into formal and decision-making roles, such as PTA presidents, partnership liaisons, teaching assistants, and gaining employment with social service providers. Residents of all ages have also taken advantage of the more defined and supported pathway to higher education. Each year, more and more are registered for community colleges, undergraduate and graduate university programs.
Numerous examples of successful academic engagement can be identified at the Hartland Partnership Center. As undergraduate students develop into responsible citizens through direct practice experiences, graduate students in applied disciplines apply their professional theories to assist with finding solutions to real-world scenarios. Graduate students also conduct research that identifies community issues and is ultimately useful to the community, and is not just a report that goes on someone’s shelf.
A philosophy for building the capacity of individuals and the systems that they come in contact with has been a successful way of working with residents of the Hartland Apartments. In a situation where immigrant and refugee populations are challenged with a lot of urgent and competing needs, it was initially tempting for students and professionals to do things for the residents. It was believed that the work could meet the needs of the community and be accomplished quicker. However, residents soon taught us about the strengths of their communities. Opportunity like simple tasks such as faxing documents or asking for a service through the telephone, were important steps to shift the power relationship among stakeholders and ultimately develop trust and basic skills necessary for individuals to master their new environment.
Nurturing successful community-higher education partnerships has meant being open and flexible. Experience with this model teaches us that it is imperative to build trust with community organizations by developing partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Similarly, it is important to reflect on the incremental change process of large institutions and cultivate the patience necessary to work with different institutions and at times, competing interests and goals. Ongoing documentation, communication negotiation, and openness to new learning are necessary to maintain and cultivate partnerships invested in improved service provision.
In contrast with other integration and capacity-building initiatives that focus on acculturation and assimilation of individuals, the partnerships at the Hartland Center embody the philosophy that integration is fundamentally a question of inclusive participation and equal opportunity. Therefore capacity-building must focus on the skills and tools of individuals as well as changing the systems and institutions they interact with. Capacity-building must accommodate new voices and shared power. As new, arriving populations develop the skills and social capital that they need to be successful in a new country these communities also share their knowledge and diverse cultural perspectives with schools, social systems, and native-born families, enabling dominant systems to grow and change in ways that expand and reflect each new generation. This ongoing reciprocity creates a space where knowledge and understandings are co-created.
The Hartland Partnership Center subscribes to the belief that shared service delivery resulting from a collaborative process through which scholars, students, residents, and community organizations engage, is essential to the future development of evidence-based best practices (Ibanez-Carrasco & Riano-Alcala, 2009). The Center provides a useful model of successful, community-higher education partnerships focused on capacity-building. It simultaneously creates systemic change in local community organizations and within institutions of higher education. Through collaborative experiences and shared goals, community-higher education partners learn that no one discipline or partner can address all the needs of the community. Furthermore, the model necessitates that higher education and community partners work directly with residents to create partnership teams. Learning different cultural perceptions of health care, well-being, and social systems, and adapting services accordingly, has been crucial in promoting mutual trust, understanding, and utilization of services at Hartland. Similarly, there is a fundamental commitment to understand the priorities and perspectives of the residents, and to bridge cultures in terms of program development and service provision. Relationships with residents of diverse backgrounds have in turn built the capacity of community organizations and contributed to the knowledge of the academy, enabling their reach to be effective and more relevant to a wider range of social issues.
Challenges to authentic engagement
As university and organizations increase their partnerships, many challenges emerge. While community organizations and schools are eager to address the challenges of serving new arriving populations, many are overwhelmed with trying to provide more with less. Even as the university-community partnerships present opportunities for additional resources (i.e., funding, students, program evaluations), it does so from a place of privilege with the academy. Its focus is on research and teaching, rather than the immediate challenges of service provision to diverse populations, a population with shrinking resources and increasing complexities of resident status. The future success of applying community-higher education partnerships as a model for capacity-building will require ongoing dialogue with social service providers and systems around the importance of working as partners and including the voice of residents (Boyer, 1990; Silka, 1999; Foster-Fishman, Fitzgerald, Brandell, Nowell, Chevis, & Van Egeren, 2006). Institutions of higher education will need to challenge themselves to remain first and foremost, citizens of the community who do occupy a place of power and privilege. Institutions must understand that with this position comes the responsibility to redistribute and share power in ways that address systemic barriers and create greater social justice.
Finally, UNP’s insistence on bringing people to the “decision-making table,” who have not been there before, making them present and valuing their knowledge, is what makes this model unique. UNP does not speak for people—it includes them so they can speak for themselves. There is consistent surprise at meetings with bankers, university trustees, fundraisers, news, educators, social service providers, and government, when UNP staff arrives with local residents of diverse background. The significance of UNP’s approach is a commitment to an inclusive process. The success of UNP and its 30 partnerships lies in offering neutral space which brings individuals and stakeholder groups together who would not ordinarily interact with each other. Such groups consist of university professors, local residents, new arriving populations, students, nonprofit staff, marginalized populations, and majority populations. UNP staff members act as catalysts for facilitating equal voice and dialogue among the partners focused on integration, community capacity building, and resident empowerment.
Over the past nine years, UNP’s partnerships have grown involving faculty and students from 42 university departments and over 30 community organizations who come together to operate 30 partnerships located in local school sites, community centers, and an apartment complex. Each partnership includes representatives from all stakeholder groups (higher education, community organizations/schools, and residents). UNP staff act as facilitators to convene, connect, find resources, and support the development of partnerships that are community-driven. Establishing trusting relationships is at the core of higher education-community partnership models. As students and university faculty partner with community organizations and residents tackle institutional and societal barriers, a shared reality emerges.
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Rosemarie Hunter, Ph.D, LCSW is the Special Assistant to the President of the University of Utah for Campus-Community Partnerships and Director of University Neighborhood Partners. Dr. Hunter’s areas of focus are campus-community partnerships, community organization and practice, community-based research, integration of new arriving populations (immigration and resettlement), and international social work. Email: email@example.com
Trinh Mai, LCSW, MSW, is faculty with the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. At Hartland Partnership Center, a University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) program, she supervises the social work partnership where social work interns collaborate with community and university partners to run programs that build community capacity. Trinh Mai seeks to link social work faculty with community and university partners for research and teaching that directly benefit communities. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Hollister RN, MS, Associate Professor (Clinical) – Ms. Hollister has an extensive career practicing in the acute care setting with a focus on staff development and continuing education. Areas of focus are curriculum design and modalities of clinical and classroom instruction employing civic engagement. Email: email@example.com
Odireleng Jankey, Ph.D., MSW is a lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the University of Botswana. She graduated from the University of Utah, USA with a PhD in Social Work in 2009. She has a Masters in Social Work with a research specialization. Email: Odireleng.Jankey@mopipi.ub.bw