This month, the research team that Rachel, Madison, and Chloe are on (along with graduate students Claire Edwards, Gitte Frandsen, and Anis Rhaman as well as Dr. Maria Novotny) received a grant from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for our project entitled “Antiracist Teaching Practices for Writing Across Disciplines at UWM.” Our project proposal was selected as part of the Antiracist Action Grant Program—an initiative to promote antiracist action across campus—funded by the Office of Research and the Division of Global Inclusion and Engagement at UWM.
Through this project, we hope to motivate UWM instructors to critically examine their language ideologies when responding to student writing, foster cross-campus dialogues about the ways that racism impacts teaching practices, and provide resources for taking anti-racist approaches to writing instruction and assessment. Ultimately, our goal is to foster spaces of honesty, collaboration, and social justice so that this project can encourage instructors to support, sustain, and learn from our students’ diverse literacy practices.
To pursue these objectives, our plan is to develop and facilitate an Antiracist Pedagogy Seminar during Summer 2021. Instructors from all departments will be invited to attend this Antiracist Pedagogy Seminar, which will include a series of discussion groups and workshops, to discuss readings, examine their implicit biases, and develop anti-racist writing pedagogies. The desired outcome of this seminar is threefold:
Next semester, we will be sending out a survey for students to provide input on their experiences with writing feedback and instruction at UWM. The responses to this survey will inform our summer seminar and future public presentations about anti-racist writing pedagogy. After the seminar, we will create a set of webpages with resources for any teacher interested in combating racism in their teaching practices and uplifting the diverse literacies of our students and their communities.
As the grant program’s FAQ page states, “this program arose from a conversation around what we can do to dismantle racism here on campus. How can faculty, researchers, teaching and administrative staff and others have a voice in resolving some of the issues that people are talking about and people are experiencing on our campus?” We couldn’t be more excited to work with our campus community in an attempt to create lasting, tangible, and socially just change in the lives of students and instructors alike. We’ll keep you updated as the project moves along!
As we’re approaching the end of October, we also approach Election Day (November 3rd). We’re sure you’ve been seeing it everywhere, but please remember to vote. If you haven’t already, make your voting plan now! For those of you in Milwaukee, this website gives you everything you need to know about absentee ballots, early in-person voting, voting schedules and locations, and more.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
I am what academics might call a community-engaged researcher. Much of my research and writing involves telling people in positions of power (teachers, healthcare practitioners, health communicators) about how much they can learn from communities and their communication practices. I am interested in learning about ways that institutions can better invest their time and money toward building relationships and supporting the expertise that is already present in the community. It’s quite simple, really, but I think it’s important work. I don’t see myself as an expert, but rather, I try to leverage my privileges and resources to support and sustain the communities that I work with. Thanks to a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship, I’m spending the 2020-2021 academic year working as a fellow at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) with their Promotores de Salud Program. My role with this work is a bit like an intern and a resident researcher. Part of my time is spent in meetings and planning activities for ongoing educational programming with the promotores and the other part is spent with research activities (like interviews, focus groups, analyzing data, and writing) that are focused on highlighting the work of the promotores. So, while my colleagues are figuring out teaching online in a pandemic, I’m figuring out what it means to do community-engaged research remotely. A topic that is constantly on my mind is access.
Access and barriers to access have long been topics of interest for healthcare practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. They impact how healthy a community is and how well (or not) a healthcare system meets that community’s needs. Networks of access include many different aspects such as transportation, food security, housing, social services, family life, and more. Not only do people face barriers to accessing quality healthcare, but institutions often also face barriers to the ways they can access and connect with communities. Many of these barriers are inherent in the ways the healthcare system is set up to privilege spaces, professionals, and language practices that are separate from local communities—especially immigrant communities. One way that institutions try to “reach” Spanish-speaking immigrant communities is through promotores de salud (health promoters). Promotores de salud are often seen as lay people who can educate their communities about health information and transmit messages from institutions that are trying to reach the people where they live. Too often, the direction of information is top-down in the ways it moves from the healthcare institution to the community.
The hope is that improving access to information can lead to a decrease in health disparities and an increase in the utilization of healthcare services by these communities. But what about the information and education that can come from the community to inform and make positive changes to institutions? Part of my work this year is to lift up the stories, experiences, and expertise of the promotores de salud to help identify ways that the healthcare system might transform into something that is more just, equitable, and accessible.
So, what do these promotores de salud do? The specific role takes on different shapes depending on where they work and what institution they’re affiliated with. The promotores that I’m working with are experts in creating confianza (trust/confidence) and connecting people to resources. By building confianza with their communities, people open up to them about all sorts of things going on in their lives. They use a curriculum (CCmás) about sexual and reproductive health that was developed with input from the community. This curriculum is taught through conversations at Home Health Parties, or Fiestas Caseras, which were modeled after the Avon business model of gathering for a party in people’s homes and working as consultants. These fiestas caseras provide the space for the promotores to facilitate conversations about a range of topics on sexual health, reproductive justice, advocacy, and empowering the community. Through the support of various grants, the promotores also support non-partisan activities for civic participation by encouraging and assisting people with filling out the census and registering to vote. With the current pandemic, some of the promotores have turned to virtual gatherings to host Fiestas Caseras, and all of them continue to help connect people to resources available for legal issues, bill payments, health services, and more.
The promotores may work in similar roles with other organizations and many of them have other jobs in addition to their work with PPWI. They live within Latinx communities across the state of Wisconsin and they understand the daily challenges and injustices that immigrants from Latin America face while helping uphold essential businesses and our economy. With an understanding of the intersecting oppressions that their communities face, the promotores see their work as part of reproductive justice. By advocating for “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong), they understand that the challenges immigrant communities face in reproductive healthcare is more than simply whether or not they have access to clinics and information about reproductive health. It is impacted by whether they can pay their bills, whether they have safe environments in their homes, whether they have been denied the option to choose whether or not to have more children, whether their children face danger in the U.S. or other countries, and so much more. This complex understanding of the realities that immigrant communities face in the U.S. could inform more holistic, equitable, and compassionate approaches to healthcare.
Health promoters are experts that researchers, administrators, and practitioners should learn from and compensate for their expertise. If their expertise and experience was valued as much as the credentials of our health providers, then we might see our community education models become more dynamic in the ways that institutions could be informed by communities and relationships between them could become more mutually beneficial.
Rachel Bloom-Pojar is an Associate Professor with the program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UW-Milwaukee and a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society fellow with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.