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Salem State's Cynthia Lynch Discusses Critically Engaged Civic Learning (CECL) In New Article

Interview by the Center for Research and Creative Activities

Cynthia Lynch, executive director of the Salem State Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), was recently published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. The article titled, “Critically Engaged Civic Learning: A Comprehensive Restructuring of Service-Learning Approaches,” was written alongside Cindy Vincent, professor of media and communication; Sara Moore, professor of sociology; Jacob Lefker, who was previously director of community engagement at the North Shore Community Development Coalition; and Robert J. Awkward, who is the assistant commissioner for academic effectiveness at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

Cynthia Lynch provided background and context to this innovative article in an interview with the CRCA.

When the CCE was launched in 2015, Lynch and Vincent -- who was the faculty fellow at the time -- spent hours talking about equity and meaningful community engagement, and how they could engage with the university's partners in a more authentic way.

One of the challenges they both recognized was many community-university collaborations focused primarily on student learning or meeting community needs that were identified by the faculty. Social change was not central to the work and the projects that were occurring did not build on the assets of the community nor recognize community knowledge in determining how to address the community issues.

Not only did Lynch and Vincent identify challenges with the practices occurring within community-university collaborations, but also, they realized the term service-learning was problematic often privileging the group doing the service and placing the emphasis on doing service for the sake of academic learning.

“Cindy and I launched this work,” Lynch says. However, she adds, “we weren’t doing this work for the sake of the article but rather we wanted to focus on how campuses can more equitably engage with the community and begin to address important public issues,” which led them to create the Critically Engaged Civic Learning (CECL) framework discussed in their article. Though Lynch and Vincent had the initial idea for the framework, all authors worked together to research, write, and give presentations as the framework was created and revised.

Lynch describes the CECL model as, “a framework that weaves together different strands of community engagement, critical service-learning, and civic learning to promote more meaningful and equitable engagement with community partners. It acknowledges that change doesn’t happen overnight, and CECL projects are co-developed with community partners in an effort to break down the power dynamics that exist between universities and communities.”

CECL is structured by six guiding principles: social justice, power dynamics, community, civic learning objectives, reflexivity, and sustainability (See figure 1). CECL also de-centers the student as the focus of civic engagement and learning and resituates them among a constellation of stakeholders (see figure 2). Lynch, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Equity and Engagement Consortium (EEC), is now working on how to embed the ideas of CECL into civic engagement work at the national level. Lynch believes, “in order to create a more just and equitable society we must examine our civic engagement practices and language and make sure that equity is centered in both.”

While this article took a year longer than expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it came out at a time that will allow community and campus partners to meet the unique historical moment we’re in.

“With increased interest in organizing and advocacy around important social justice issues, it gives a useful model for how communities and campuses can work together to close opportunity gaps and look at systems-level change rather than putting a band-aid on the challenges faced in communities,” Lynch says. “This work is not new to faculty at Salem State, we have many faculty that work very equitably with our community and really have the focus on social change. What CECL is doing is putting language to the work and creating a framework to highlight best practices and hopefully institutionalize them.”

Since this article was written, Lynch and Vincent, along with the Massachusetts EEC developed Principles for Anti-Racist Community-Engaged Pedagogy as part of the effort to continue improving the practices and pedagogies within the field of Civic Engagement.

Congratulations to everyone who made this article possible. We are looking forward to seeing the different ways this framework is put into action! Read Cynthia Lynch's full article.


Learn more about the Center for Research and Creative Activities. All Salem State University students, faculty, and staff are invited to email their research to be featured by the CRCA:

JIllian Willis
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