Engaging the community in community engagement : community partners, mutual benefit, and reciprocity in community-university partnerships
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Community engagement in higher education has continued to increase and adapt to the needs and changes in society. Through community-university partnerships, colleges and universities are able to engage with their communities through mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships. While research has included the experiences of higher education administrators and faculty members in this engagement, few empirical studies have addressed the experiences, perspective, and voice of community partners in community-university partnerships. As a result, this study adds to the needed empirical research on community engagement in higher education from the community side of the partnership. Three research questions guided this study: (1) How do community agents define mutually beneficial and reciprocal community-university partnerships? (2) How do community agents, who represent community partners with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, make meaning of their experiences in a community-university partnership? And (3) How do community agents’ experiences connect to their definition of mutually beneficial and reciprocal community-university partnerships? Through a qualitative approach using phenomenology, this study focused on the lived experiences of long-standing community partners in community-university partnerships at a four-year public research institution with an institutionalized community engagement division. Hearing the community voice in community engagement is an oft-cited need in community engagement literature. Using a conceptual framework based on complementing theories to understand community-university partnerships, this research study underscores the experiences of community partners through findings including: creating a community in community engagement; context matters; the need for knowledge; it is all about relationships; and contextualization of terminology. The experiences of the community partners in this study reaffirm findings in the extant literature as well as add to the greater focus of the community perspective in community engagement based in the academy.
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