As I mentioned in a previous post, community-based learning projects in rural Illinois towns requires a close of examination of class issues in the dyad of university students - community partner.
This is of course the case in every community-campus partnership, whether rural or urban, so I thought I would explore the idea further.
The Community Matters program that Pattsi Petrie described dialogue with local leaders, held charettes, and did a seemingly thorough job of assuring community buy-in for their projects. As Pattsi presented, I was thinking to myself: "But who are the true community leaders in the communities you find in Clay County, Illinois?" Just because they have a certain label or were voted into a position doesn't necessarily mean that community members view them as having power.
So I asked my cousin who lives and works in Clay County, Illinois--she lives in Clay City and works in Xenia--who the community members with true power are. I gave her a list but asked to her tell me about people I had left off the list.
My ideas for positions of power: the mayor, sheriff, preacher(s), school superintendent, school principal, school board members, village board members.
My cousin reflected on each one of those, but none of them really seemed to fulfill the role of community leader. Here is her answer:
"If I'd have to pick someone to call who would be 'in the know' as it were or who could get things done it'd be [X] or [Y], so I'd guess I'd say the Village Board members or one of the village workers. I suppose others in power would be anyone who owns a business with employees here. That would include Knapp's, the oil businesses, Jason (our cousin) with Crop Production Services, maybe the booze owners, restaurants, etc... I'd say people tend to pay more attention to the business owners because they're trying to bring prosperity to the community. Also, almost forgot them: Shriners, Lion's Club members, bank president/employees..."
Most people would think of business owners as community leaders, and I had thought of the village board members. But if you're not from this type of community, I don't know if you would realize the true power the village employees (many of whom have worked there for decades!) and the bank, Shriners, Lion's Club, etc.
As soon as my cousin mentioned them, I thought, of course! But I have been in a university atmosphere for many, many years now, so even I have lost touch with who occupies positions of true power in our small town.
My point with this extended example of Clay County, Illinois? We all need to know who the true leaders are in the communities where we work and send our students. A failure to consider issues of class in the communities that we engage may inhibit us from seeing where true power lies--the power that we need if our community-based learning projects are to succeed.
Image of Clay City: danalemke.blogspot.com