Community Conversations in Glasgow Community-Based Learning’s collaboration with Concerned Citizens of Glasgow during Winter 2023 offer students an opportunity to help a community find its voice.
Students in “CBL 100: Introduction to Community-Based Learning” were treated to a morning of history, memories and community connection in Glasgow, Virginia on March 4 in partnership with Concerned Citizens of Glasgow. The course, taught by Sascha Goluboff, professor of anthropology and director of community-based learning, explores the high-impact practices of community-based learning through real-world collaborations with community stakeholders, including working alongside residents of Glasgow to strategize ways to increase the well-being of their community.
The March 4 visit to Glasgow included a walking tour of town with Brandall Branch, a Glasgow Town Council member whose family has deep roots in the community. Branch’s tour provided an overview of the town’s socioeconomic development and on the relationship between the white and black communities in Glasgow, highlighting the area’s surprising connections with the history of desegregation and race relations in Virginia. One of the goals of the collaboration, Goluboff said, was that Glasgow residents want to brainstorm ways to build and strengthen community ties, and Branch’s exposition provided students with helpful context for framing conversations around a more connected community.
“When my office met with Concerned Citizens of Glasgow,” Goluboff said, “one of the things that they talked about was wanting a sense of community–recreating, rebuilding and strengthening community.”
Students later gathered in the James E. Thompson Community Center in Glasgow (named for James E. Thompson Sr., who served as principal there when the building served as an elementary school for black children prior to desegregation) to engage in conversation with Glasgow residents about the needs of their community. Students were asked to help moderate the discussion and generate questions for the group to consider together. The class also conducted follow-up interviews with community participants with the goal of creating a summary report that includes recommendations and possible next steps.
“The community members who participated had a lot of great ideas, particularly focused on increasing use of the community center through after-school and summer programs, intergenerational activities and potential learning opportunities,” said Sallie Sorenson ’23, a politics major from Lynchburg, Virginia. “They emphasized the importance of the next generation, and encouraged programming catered toward teaching them new skills and occupying their time. It was very inspiring to hear their ideas and I look forward to seeing how the members of the Glasgow community come together to create change.”
The inspiration for the collaboration with Concerned Citizens of Glasgow came from a book called “Community: The Structure of Community” by Peter Block, which explores how communities can move towards more positive outcomes through dialogue and shared vision.
“Block argues that in order to create a positive community, individuals should come together to have difficult conversations that move the focus away from problems towards possibilities, and he says it can only happen in dialogue–looking inward instead of searching for others outside our communities to solve the issue at hand,” Goluboff said. “We’re hoping that these conversations are part of a longer process of dialogue towards a new vision in Glasgow.”
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