UMass Boston professors, students and community leaders discuss place-based justice
The Office of Community Partnerships hosts the Fifth Annual Fireside Chat
UMass Boston’s Office of Community Partnerships hosted its fifth annual fireside chat on February 24, bringing together students, faculty and activists and community leaders to discuss this year’s focus area entitled Our Dorchester: A Home for Place-Based Justice Partnerships to discuss. Panellists explored ways the university can deepen its strong community ties and expand its service to the communities it touches, relationships it has nurtured since its founding in 1964.
“In a city that has more universities and college students than any other city in the country, we hold a special place as Boston’s only public research university,” said Provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs Joseph Berger in introductory remarks. “I am proud to be with UMass Boston because we are so embedded in the fabric of the communities we are in and have a responsibility to serve. That being said, we have no laurels to rest on. We have a lot to do. We can learn a lot from each other.”
Cedric WoodsDirector of the Institute for New England Native American Studies, set the stage for the site-specific discussion by reminding the audience of the history of the European peoples who settled in the Dorchester area and the displacement and atrocities inflicted on the native people became.
“The homeland of the people of Massachusetts is this place where we stand and where we are all guests, whether we recognize and live up to that responsibility or not. All of us here are still guests of the Massachusett people, and they’re still with us today,” he said. “It’s not just a story of the past, but also of the present and the future.”
The two panel discussions generated a range of ideas, but also developed themes about how the university can work to increase engagement and opportunities in the communities it serves.
“Our mission is to engage with the community,” he said Ping Ann Addo, an associate professor of anthropology focusing on the areas of cultural preservation and representation. “It can’t just be in front of the university door, on the border; it has to be in our teaching and in our research… and it has to be in real collaboration.”
A few panellists emphasized the role of UMass Boston centers and institutes as primary points of collaboration and community connections essential to progress. Lisette LeExecutive Director of the Vietnamese American Initiative for Development (VietAID) in Fields Corner, spoke about the importance of UMass Boston’s Ethnic Centers and Institutes as a lifeline to her work.
“When I’m looking for data…to advocate for the Vietnamese community, which is often left out of most conversations, I go to the Institute for Asian-American Studies,” she said, noting that her research provides invaluable data on community development, mental health and other areas.
Le also pointed to the need for expanded ESOL programs in her community to ease access to jobs in the booming construction industry in Dorchester and Boston overall, citing the language barrier as the number one obstacle for Vietnamese construction workers.
Other panelists emphasized the need for the university to provide community members and youth access to campus, and also noted UMass Boston’s role in creating economic opportunity in the communities it serves.
“I believe UMass has a future opportunity to really be a place where the students who come in the front door, if they go in the back door, should all have a job,” the councilman said Frank Baker called. “I think UMass has to be that place.”
President of Carney Hospital and a graduate of UMass Boston Stan McLaren, citing his personal experience, also emphasized the need to expand and enhance the pipeline of educated, trained health professionals from UMass Boston’s diverse student population to support care in a culturally sensitive manner. With the number of people leaving healthcare due to burnout, retirement or other reasons, the issue is now more important than ever, he said.
“The education I received at UMass actually started my journey, and I’ll tell you where that journey began,” McLaren said. “It started on a three-decker with a family of seven in a two-bedroom apartment on Capen Street in Dorchester and ended up being the president of a hospital a mile away. And from that vantage point as a little black boy, that was a light year away. There was no way I saw that coming.”
He encouraged UMass Boston to continue reaching out to communities, and particularly young people and public school students, to educate them about the opportunities open to them to find economic and personal success, much like he did.
Other members of the panel were UMass Boston Community Development Student Shami HicksPhD student in political science Bianca Ortiz-WytheVice President of Dorchester Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Queen Santosand moderator Yawu MillerEditor-in-Chief of Bay State Banner.
The event included a photo exhibition entitled Our Dorchester Photography Project, shot by students Dacey Jackson, Layanie Oscarand Slandy Sanon. Director of the Office of Community Partnerships Cynthia Orellana also gave special thanks to the students of the UMass Boston Jazz Quartet Annalee Clough, Deniece Woodard, Philip Leiand Matthew J. Villacis— and spoken word artists, students Celine Voyard and Layanie Oscarfor their achievements.
In her closing remarks, Orellana urged attendees to continue reflecting on the places we occupy and to move closer to “humanizing the people, places and things that make Dorchester, Dorchester what it is.”
“I hope this conversation will be the first of many as we sort of take our pulse on our place-based justice — or injustice — and make room for opportunities for growth, away from unintended harm and towards what brings us closer to a loved community.” to be,” she said.