Holyoke Community College Professor of Anthropology Vanessa Martinez has been awarded the 2022 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award from Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities.
Martinez was recognized for her outstanding work and teaching which has inspired her students to take on community leadership roles.
She joined Zydalis Bauer to discuss both the importance of community engagement and the strategies necessary to make an impact.
Learn about HCC’s Community Leadership Certificate program, which Martinez’s co-leads, in a digital exclusive interview.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Holyoke Community College Professor of Anthropology Vanessa Martinez has been awarded the 2022 Thomas Erlich Civically Engaged Faculty award from Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities.
Martinez was recognized for her outstanding work and teaching, which has inspired her students to take on community leadership roles.
She joins me to discuss both the importance of community engagement and the strategies necessary to make an impact.
Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio, Holyoke Community College: I’ve always been a ‘save-the-world-care-about-your-neighbor’ like, you know, ‘take-care-of-other-people’ kind of person. And so for me, teaching is about really getting students to see themselves as changemakers. And what better way to do that than in their own communities?
And so that for me, says it all. Like, if I can get them thinking about how to see the the the learning that they’re doing and ways to help their community, I’ve done my job.
Zydalis Bauer: Western New England is very culturally diverse, and your academic work focuses on storytelling, culturally responsive instruction, and cultural humility.
Why are these three focuses important in community engagement and are they relevant regardless of the community that you choose to be active in?
Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio: Yes, they are absolutely relevant in every community. But how they…how they work in those communities may look different. So, you know, some of the foundations of, like, cultural humility, for example, cultural humility, comes from the work of doctors Melanie Tourbillon and Jan Marie Garcia.
And really the…the foundation of cultural humility is, you know, self-reflection, lifelong learning, mitigating power imbalances, making sure to have mutually beneficial community partnerships, relationships, and institutional accountability, right? And all of those things really can…help to change things for the better.
Culturally responsive pedagogy or practices or instruction is really about…recognizing, similar to cultural humility, that you are always learning; that there’s always, you know, there’s shifts that need to happen, depending on the students, the population, the needs. And so, you know, I often tie that to anti-racist pedagogy, as well. And really understanding that the way we currently exist in the world isn’t equitable, but we can work towards that.
So for me, all of those strategies that I employ really go hand in hand together.
Zydalis Bauer: What are some examples of community research engagement or advocacy that students have participated in the classroom with you?
Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio: We’ve had students do a reading group with a community organization, where some of their participants or clients participate in the class reading, some of the class readings with us, and there’s good discussion that happens. The Multicultural Services Center was one of our partners.
We’ve worked with the dual language program at Path School here in Holyoke to give — have students create workshops on immigration for first graders, both in English and in Spanish.
I have students working on Mama’s Voice, which is a community-based participatory research project looking at women of color, moms of color’s maternal wellness. I have students who are doing advocacy-based projects.
Last semester, my health equity class actually started the process — I say started the process because actually going from beginning to end, we need a little bit more than three months — so started the process to develop an advocacy plan for my organization for the Women of Color Health Equity Collective.
Zydalis Bauer: We’re all part of a community. Some of us, several communities.
What message would you share about engagement and leadership within those that we all can have within the communities we reside in?
Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio: Start small, find people that are doing the work that might be able to mentor you, and also recognize that it is likely that you’re going to make mistakes.
When I first developed the community engaged social action project that I did my first few years of teaching, I didn’t have — I didn’t have as much experience. And so I — I tried to give students sort of as much framework before they entered the community as possible, but now I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I — you know, I didn’t do this, this and this before that!” right?
And so, you know, recognizing that you’re you’re always learning. And if you sort of take it as that and — and to apologize when a mistake is made.
You know, when you’re working in community, you’re not going to know everything, right? That’s the part about being humble, right? The part in cultural humility that’s about humble, being humble, is that you don’t know everything.
And you can answer a question with, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”