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The Principles of Anti-Oppressive Community Engagement for University Educators and Researchers are the product of many minds and several years. In 2016 Rebecca Riccio, founder and director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern University, convened a group of Northeastern University faculty and staff to examine the case for adopting campus-wide standards for ethical community-engaged teaching and research (CETR). The group reflected a diverse and growing ecosystem of people in a variety of community-engaged roles across campus who wanted to establish a coherent and shared framework of accountability for the unintended harms and inequity that can result from CETR. An ad-hoc community of practice was established, and while its composition has shifted over the years, members continue to share scholarly literature and research, best practices, discipline-specific applications, and our own experiences as educators and practitioners who share a commitment to racial and social justice.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, three of us, Riccio, Becca Berkey, and Giordana Mecagni, began articulating these principles and practices more concretely as a commitment to holding ourselves accountable for practicing antiracist and anti-oppressive CETR. Our roles at the university – Mecagni in University Archives and Special Collections, Berkey in CETR within the Education Innovation team of the Office of the Chancellor, and Riccio in the Social Impact Lab, human services program, and School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs – call for deep community engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration on and off campus. We were therefore able to draw on years of lessons learned from the circle of colleagues described above and other collaborators with diverse identities, roles, and experiences with CETR, including community partners, faculty, staff, and students at Northeastern and other universities. Our work was also informed by a wide range of scholars and practitioners in the fields of critical service-learning and CETR, antiracism, antiracist pedagogy, and social movement building. After drafting the principles, we workshopped them through a collaborative and iterative review process, again including a wide range of university and community stakeholders. We are abundantly grateful to everyone who has been part of this journey so far.

Fully acknowledging the limits of our lived experiences and perspectives, we share the principles as an aspirational offering and invitation to continue improving upon them. Our hope is that this living document will further evolve as we continue to learn from and with others who share our commitment to reimagining CETR. Manifesting the principles in action and context will require us to build a culture that values humility, accountability, and reckoning. Toward that end, our next step will be to co-create an accountability toolkit to facilitate dialogue between university faculty, staff, and students and our community partners to co-define and then practice what accountability means in our specific disciplines, fields, or contexts. Our hope is that these conversations will help foster an environment where the use of an agreed-upon set of principles is common and expected, much like the Institutional Review Board process is. 

To the many people whose wisdom and experience have informed these principles and whose friendship and collegiality have inspired us to be bold, thank you. We hope we have captured the purpose and spirit of our work together.

In solidarity,

Rebecca Riccio, Juffali Family Director, Social Impact Lab

Giordana Mecagni, Head of Special Collections and University Archivist, Northeastern University Library

Becca Berkey, Director of Community-Engaged Teaching & Research

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