Developing and Sustaining Relationships in a Multi-sector Higher Education Access Coalition for Urban Neighborhood Change.
Author(s)Hudson, Elizabeth L.
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AbstractFor more than two decades, higher education institutions have increased efforts to support neighborhood change and problem solving with practices labeled civic or community engagement. Critics and participants question whether an institutional engagement movement exists, and they also critique the efficacy of associated practices, especially because they can privilege institutional outcomes over community need. Despite the challenges, neighborhood partners may find value in higher education partnership???s potential to develop social capital. In some cases, higher education engagement has become embedded in neighborhood change efforts, but engagement research rarely analyzes the complexities of relationship development processes in coalitions. Guided by constructs from social capital theory, this study analyzes one multi-sector, urban, educational opportunity coalition to understand how relationships among higher education and neighborhood partners generated resources and structured resource allocation. The coalition, called the Sunnydale Jobs and Education Network (SJEN), included representatives from community-based organizations, higher education institutions, private foundations, a charter school, and faith-based organizations. SJEN partners collaborated for six years beginning in 2006. This analysis focuses on the initial four years of problem defining and finding external resources. I employ archival and participatory observation methods on secondary data sources, such as interviews, meeting notes, and grant applications. The findings from this analysis inform higher education community engagement for coalition-based change and educational opportunity by drawing attention to the structure of resource development in coalition partnership. In SJEN, four tensions emerged to undermine equitable distribution of resources: a vague concept of community, institutional obligations, transience, and funding structures. These tensions manifested to privilege school and higher education institutional outcomes, alienating some partners and limiting engagement with residents. However, the coalition eventually built trust that enabled productive conversations where marginalized partners could air their frustrations about inequitable resource distribution. Based on this insight, I construct an alternative model for higher education coalitions with potentially useful considerations for partners. This model emphasizes trust building and balancing bridging and bonding capital to embrace both institutional and relational approaches to change. Higher education engagement can benefit from deliberate partner involvement and deliberative communication among partners to establish mutuality, a measure of quality engagement.