Spotlight: Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) Fellowship

This month we spotlight the Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) Fellowship
January 12, 2023

Inspired in part by Brown’s long-standing tradition of supporting faculty-student partnerships through programs such as Writing Fellows and UTRAs, the Swearer Center’s Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) Fellowship matches undergraduate students with faculty to assist in planning and/or implementing community engaged components in their courses. Fellows’ responsibilities vary based on each course, but they primarily: assist with curriculum development; provide peer mentoring to students enrolled in the course(s); serve as liaisons between students, faculty, community partners, and Swearer Center staff regarding the community engagement components of a course; and/or support longer-term engagement with community partners.

Since the program launched in Spring of 2020, Mary-Kim Arnold, Assistant Professor of the Practice of English, has been a CBLR Fellowship faculty partner. This past Fall, Professor Arnold taught ENGL 1191A: The Poet and The Press Release: Rhetoric of Social Change, and worked with a twice-serving CBLR Fellow, Grace Xiao ‘24. ENGL 1191A is a CBLR-designated course considering the role of rhetoric, writing, and public narrative in social and political movements. Through engagement with Rhode Island-based organizations—like Showing Up For Racial Justice, RI and the Tomaquag Museum—students enrolled in the course examined narrative strategies of social and political movements through various analytic lenses, including critical race theory and intersectionality, literary theory, and anti-racist pedagogy. 

Developing key assignments, cultivating and coordinating relationships with community partners, and evaluating course outcomes, Professor Arnold and Grace’s work together spanned the pre-course planning process through post-course assessment, considering student engagement, effectiveness of activities, and community partnership experiences. “Beyond the great logistical and operational support student fellows can offer,” Professor Arnold reflected, “I have found Grace’s perspective so valuable in designing activities and assignments to be relevant and meaningful for the class.” On the importance of both the partnership and social impact of the CBLR Fellowship, Professor Arnold added, “The path for developing and sustaining community-based courses isn’t always the most straightforward, and the CBLR Fellowship allows student fellows to observe and participate in that process directly. I think these experiences provide useful skills and perspectives that can serve students well in their lives beyond Brown.”

Similarly, Grace considered her fellowship “a formative part of my experience as a student at Brown and as a community member living in Providence during the academic year.” Both the individual and cohort experience matters, Grace added, “I found a supportive network of peers and mentors who were grappling with the same questions and tensions as I was about what it means to do community-based work and how to build sustainable communities based in mutual support. The fellowship has also helped me think through possible futures in my academic field through connecting scholarship to work that is rooted in communities outside of academia.”

Faculty across disciplines have found value in working with a CBLR Fellow. In 2022-23, 10 students are working with faculty teaching 11 engaged courses in Anthropology, Education, Engineering, English, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Public Health, and Sociology. Associate Professor of Anthropology and one of the developers of the CBLR Fellowship, Kate Mason, reflected: “Brown students are hungry for opportunities to engage with the communities around them in ways that are respectful, productive, and intellectually rigorous. Faculty want to provide these opportunities, but for many years the burden of doing so was high, as CBLR courses are more difficult than typical courses to conceptualize, plan, organize, and run.” Dr. Mason continued: “The CBLR Fellows with whom I have worked have been invaluable in every stage of the planning, implementation, and evaluation process for the CBLR courses I offer. Their passion for the work and deep knowledge of the complexities involved in working with community partners has made these courses smoother and more enriching for students, faculty and community partners alike.”

Student and faculty applications for the 2023-24 CBLR Fellowship are being accepted in UFunds through February 17. Any faculty member, postdoctoral fellow, or graduate student teaching an undergraduate course eligible for the College’s CBLR curricular designation in 2023-24 is welcome to apply. Contact [email protected] with questions.