1st Edition

Transformative Civic Engagement Through Community Organizing

By Maria Avila Copyright 2017
    136 Pages
    by Routledge

    136 Pages
    by Routledge

    Maria Avila presents a personal account of her experience as a teenager working in a factory in Ciudad Juarez to how she got involved in community organizing. She has since applied the its distinctive practices of community organizing to civic engagement in higher education, demonstrating how this can help create a culture that values and rewards civically engaged scholarship and advance higher education’s public, democratic mission.Adapting what she learned during her years as an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation, she describes a practice that aims for full reciprocity between partners and is achieved through the careful nurturing of relationships, a mutual understanding of personal narratives, leadership building, power analysis, and critical reflection. She demonstrates how she implemented the process in various institutions and in various contexts and shares lessons learned. Community organizing recognizes the need to understand the world as it is in order to create spaces where stakeholders can dialogue and deliberate about strategies for creating the world as we would like it to be. Maria Avila offers a vision and process that can lead to creating institutional change in higher education, in communities surrounding colleges and universities, and in society at large.This book is a narrative of her personal and professional journey and of how she has gone about co-creating spaces where democracy can be enacted and individual, institutional, and community transformation can occur. In inviting us to experience the process of organizing, and in keeping with its values and spirit, she includes the voices of the participants in the initiatives in which she collaborated – stakeholders ranging from community partners to faculty, students, and administrators in higher education.

    Foreword by Scott J. Peters Acknowledgements 1. Introduction and Overview 2. Four Community Organizing Practices. Creating Culture Change 3. How Community Organizing Evolved at Occidental College 4. The Market, Civically Engaged Scholarship, and Reciprocity 5. Concluding Points and Final Reflections Afterword by Michael Gecan Appendix Glossary References About the Author Index


    Maria Avila is a faculty member in the Master of Social Work program at the California State University, Dominguez Hills. She is a member of Imagining America National Advisory Board. Avila’s research focuses on participatory action research with faculty and with community partners, aimed at creating democratic, civic engagement inside and outside of higher education institutions. She was Director of the Center for Community Based Learning at Occidental College from 2001-2011, having earlier worked as a community organizer and a social worker in Mexico and in the US for over 20 years. Prior to working in higher education, Avila was a community organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the international network founded by the late Saul Alinksy in the 1940s. She has performed volunteer and consulting work with a number of organizations, including Partnerships to Uplift Communities, the Northeast LA Education Strategy, the City of Los Angeles, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, and the Council for Social Work Education’s Council on Global Issues. Avila has given numerous talks and workshops in the topics of civic engagement and community organizing at national and international conferences and venues, and has published several book chapters and journal articles. Michael Gecan community organizer, executive member of the Industrial Areas Foundation, and author of Going Public: An Organizer's Guide to Citizen Action. Scott J. Peters

    "We strongly recommend this book for anyone who is attempting to combine community organizing with their scholarship. Through the use of personal experiences and practical advice, Avila offers a text that is both deeply personal and profoundly universal. Avila’s reflections on her journey in community organizing in higher education are engaging as they provide lessons for newcomers to the field. For instance, she documents how civic engagement and scholarship are not mutually exclusive practices. As she makes clear in the opening chapter, they are interconnected and intersecting."

    Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

    "Since 2001, when she became founding director of the Center for Community-Based Learning at Occidental College, Maria Avila has been a pioneer in bringing the relational organizing methods she learned as a grassroots community organizer into cultural and institutional change in higher education. This is tough, difficult and also transformative work at the cutting edge of reviving the public purposes of higher education and education. Transformative Civic Engagement through Community Organizing is a brilliant gift to all who believe in and work for vibrant democratic societies in turbulent times."

    Harry C. Boyte, Senior Scholar in Public Work Philosophy

    Augsburg University

    “There is no greater challenge in higher education than the construction of a genuine democracy within the system and in the wider community. Only re-finding its original mission to seek knowledge to build a better society will achieve this. Maria Avila’s book is an exemplary contribution to this mission based on deep study but also, indispensably, her own experience in community organizing. A must read for faculty, students and all who care about education and democracy.”

    Ronaldo Munck, Professor and Head of Civic Engagement

    Dublin City University

    From the Foreword:

    “Maria Avila… teaches us a set of practices that… can enliven and humanize our engagement work, and keep us from turning it into deadly, dehumanizing, formulaic programs. Used well they help us open spaces and paths for learning, theory building, and knowledge making that are highly complex and transdisciplinary (which, by the way, most of our pressing issues and problems are as well). They help us turn the naming and framing of issues and problems and the development and implementation of strategies for action to address them into a deliberative civic rather than expert-dominated technical task. And they enable us to pursue a key public purpose: the discovery, development and strengthening of civic leadership, capacities, agency, and power—individual and collective—for long term rather than episodic work. In short, they offer higher education a way to ‘do democracy’, in the living relations of person to person, at all its levels and in all its fields of specialization.

    What Maria is offering us here not only gives us ways to enhance the effectiveness of our work, but also its joyfulness.”

    Scott J. Peters, Professor of Development Sociology

    Cornell University; Faculty Co-Director (2012-2017), Imagining America

    From the Afterword:

    “With the publication of this work, Maria Avila joins a small but growing number of authors shedding new light on the role that colleges and universities have played – and play today – in American society. She applies the lessons and universals she learned as one of thirteen children raised by her parents in Mexico, a seventeen-year-old factory worker denied bathroom breaks and medical attention, a full-time organizer, and as a grad student and tenure-track faculty member, to the challenge of recovering higher education’s public mission. Her description of the four practices of organizing – a process of individual meetings, building a team of talented leaders, analyzing and using power effectively, and be willing to engage in in-depth reflection and evaluation – is key to her public life, her approach to her work, and to this book.

    She leads us through a series of experiences in a number of college and university settings, as she applies those practices in her daily life. In doing so, she conveys both the possibilities and opportunities that emerge when someone applies these practices with skill and patience, but she also communicates the obstacles and setbacks that occur. She shows what the work of organizing, in the context of higher education, looks like when it is done with professionalism on a day to day basis, over many years.”

    Michael Gecan, co-director

    Industrial Areas Foundation

    "An important book for those who are unsettled by the deterioration of our public sphere but think that university civic engagement, under the right approach, can foster democratic societies."

    Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship