What is Community Engagement Day?
Launched in 2012, Community Engagement Day (CED) is an annual project run out of the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office at McGill.
The primary goals of CED include:
(1) highlighting existing campus-community connections,
(2) providing an opportunity to strengthen these relationships,
(3) facilitating new connections between the McGill and Montreal communities.
By creating a program of one-day volunteering projects and public discussions in partnership with community organizations around the city, CED acts as a lighthouse for these organizations as well as a catalyst for new McGill community engagement initiatives, whether they be curricular, co-curricular, or research-based. The hope is for these activities to facilitate long-term and sustainable campus-community relationships and projects both inside and beyond the classroom.
Why organize CED?
McGill is sometimes seen as operating in a “bubble”, meaning that while many members of the campus community are involved in rigorous research, partnerships, and projects with communities in Montreal, there is a perceived disconnect with communities beyond the Roddick gates. There are in fact many campus-community initiatives that prove this perception false. Members of the McGill community are involved in initiatives across the city, such as volunteering in community organizations, conducting research in partnership with various Montreal communities, and taking part in internships across the city.
Community Engagement Day (CED) aims to challenge and explore this perception of McGill as a “bubble”, while providing opportunities to spark connections between the campus and Montreal communities and help deepen these connections over time.
Held annually, CED hosts a variety of group volunteer projects and public discussions over one-or-more days. It is open for registration to the entire McGill community of staff, students, faculty and alumni.
Whether the project is painting a mural, cooking a meal at a community center, or taking part in an educational workshop, each of these projects are designed to both meet the immediate needs of community organizations as well as serve as an introduction to these organizations for participants from McGill. Combined with a reflection discussion after each activity facilitated by a CED Project Facilitator, participants are encouraged to think critically about societal issues that each organization works with as well as our individual and collective implications in these issues.
Beyond CED, new or existing partnerships are developed with help from advising and resources from the SEDE office through its Equity Education & Advising, Indigenous Education, and Community Engagement branches. There is also support from McGill Student Services, First Peoples' House, McGill Office of Sustainability, Dean of Students Office, ECOLE Project, Community Engagement Committee at SSMU, Quartier d'Innovation and other McGill faculties and units involved in various community engagement efforts.
CED is organized each year by a coordination team that includes the Program Coordinator and Communications Coordinator. They are supported in their work by the Community Engagement branch of SEDE. CED projects and public discussions are developed in partnership with members of various Montreal community organizations and McGill departments, units, faculties, student groups, and clubs.
CED Project Developers help the CED team develop and facilitate a CED project/activity in partnership with a community organization or a McGill group. Through this essential role, CED hopes to encourage students, student groups, faculty, and staff to actively take part in the program by co-creating a CED project with community groups they may already have a connection with or reaching out to and making connections with a new community organization. Project Facilitators work on a project that has already been developed by the CED Program Coordinator. The facilitation duties of both Project Developers and Facilitators include leading participants to the activity, facilitating the reflection discussion for their group, and following up with CED participants. Find more information on the SEDE webite about how to become a CED Project Developer/Facilitator.
In its ideal form, a CED project acts as a catalyst for future community-university collaborations after the day. However, for CED to be an effective tool and connector for our Montreal and McGill communities, several questions need to be asked:
- How can CED be accessible to everyone?
- Living in a system and society where some groups of people have been historically disadvantaged over others, how can CED not replicate the same oppressive dynamics that it is trying to change?
- How can CED make volunteering valuable for the individual participating while prioritizing the needs of community organization? How do we maintain dialogue and engagement between organizations and participants after CED is over?
- How can CED serve as a tool for individual growth, both in facing unjust realities and making meaningful community relationships?
With these questions in mind, CED outlines six values we follow towards building a more equitable, mutually beneficial and impactful culture of community engagement at McGill:
1. Solidarity over charity:
“I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.” - Eduardo Galeano
We reject a charity model of community engagement and instead wish to work in solidarity with others. Charity work produces a dynamic in which aid is provided by privileged individuals and groups to individuals and groups considered less fortunate, but this aid is given without listening to voices in the community and tends to be based off of often-mistaken assumptions. Charity work does not involve examining one's own intentions in engaging with a community or challenging systemic hierarchies, but rather is an exercise of power over an oppressed population by reducing their agency in determining how to respond to their own community's needs.
Solidarity on the other hand is based on empathy and good ally-ship. It is an understanding that there have been unjust lived experiences on the part of individuals and groups. Since different groups of people experience oppression in different ways, to try to help somebody you must come from a position of sincere empathy, where you acknowledge that they are the one living with an injustice, and that they must be able to dictate how they want to be helped – to give them the platform, the right and the voice to dictate change for themselves instead of trying to speak for them.
These concepts are great to have in mind when volunteering in the community – when participating as part of teams and when encountering different people with different experiences.
In working with, and not for communities
Charity flows from the premise that the giver has the expertise to determine what the recipient needs and that they know the best way to provide it. Solidarity presumes that the recipient community is in the best position to understand its needs and that they have the right to determine how, when, and even if a service is to be provided at all and by whom.
Under a solidarity model, the agenda is co-created. We don’t go into a community and tell them about a grant that can help them. We sit down and find out what the needs are and build relationships and once we understand the needs only then do we go out and seek the resources to help those communities.
Moving from service to advocacy
While a charity framework of community engagement is often about ameliorating the conditions of oppression, a solidarity framework aims to end systems of oppression by transforming the provision of service into advocacy. Working in solidarity means taking the time to build trustworthy relationships within a community and responding to their needs on their terms.
Resources, spaces, ideas and opportunities are often more accessible to some people than others. CED hopes to accommodate abilities and (dis) abilities as pertaining to bodies, minds, language, transport, physical space and types of activity to some extent, in however ways we can. Therefore, requests for accommodation are encouraged. Every kind of intentional labour whether it is physical, emotional or verbal is participation and we hope to create an environment where people feel comfortable to express themselves.
Some groups of people have always been prioritized and encouraged over others, and our goal is to critique that reality one project at a time. Our goal is to make our projects and environments safe and comfortable for people of all nationalities, sexual orientation, genders and ethnicities. We hope to do this without tokenizing or essentializing any individual or group and being accountable to our actions in how CED's activities and development respect different and diverse participants, experiences and learning.
Our goal is for people to be challenged in their views of the world, to become more aware of the realities of other people along with the understanding of our own privilege. Privilege is a simple concept; it is the idea that some people have to work much harder for things than other people. In essence, our goal is to challenge—through action and reflection—unjust barriers that divide us and make us think about different challenges that people in our communities face.
5. Community Care
As a result of systemic injustices, personal battles, and traumas, there is a need for a constant process of healing for individuals. CED hopes to facilitate physical, emotional and mental spaces, where vulnerability, healing and accommodation are welcome. Community care is a goal where kindness can be the standard, where differences are embraced and not simply tolerated, and where considerations, consent and accommodations are the norm.
This comes with the understanding that people have different experiences and can be marginalized based on intersecting identities of gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species, etc. This idea can be described by the term Intersectionality which was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.
6. Local and Grassroots
The belief that our ability to impact real change starts with our communities and ourselves. Economic and social policies are having impacts on our neighbours, in our own backyards and not simply as a case study in a textbook or for people in distant societies.