The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Student receives grant for equity-centered community involvement

By Chloe Wray

When applying for the Ragnar Thorisson ’11 Service and Social Innovation Grant through the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), Kaitie Hess ’19 knew the most effective way for a non-Grinnell-native to understand the concerns of the Grinnell community was for community members themselves to identify areas for outside assistance.

Something Hess has observed is a tendency for students to view service as a one-way street. She believes when a college student seeks to engage in service by determining a perceived issue themselves, without input from the community, a subject-object relationship is created. It is not reciprocal, nor is it equitable.

Hess first encountered the “Equity-Centered Community Design” model in April 2018, at the AshokaU Changemaker Campus Conference in Boston. Equity-centered community design was developed by the Creative Reaction Lab, a group based out of St. Louis, Missouri. In the case of the Creative Reaction Lab, their programming “educates, trains, and challenges youth to co-create solutions with Black and Latinx populations to design healthy and racially equitable communities.”

“Equity-Centered Community Design seeks for its participants to understand and identify the history of power constructs around them, and then work to heal through the social innovation process,” Hess wrote in an email to The S&B explaining her ideas for a similar program.

Equitable, or fair, service includes communities in the discussions surrounding change, actually asking communities if they desire change and giving them the support to develop solutions on their own terms, engaging in social innovation as a way to attempt tangible change in the long term.

With this in mind, Hess began to think of ways in which Grinnell College students could engage in service within the City of Grinnell, offering students’ eagerness to help make positive change to locals rather than assuming it was needed.

Hess identified the public schools as the optimal platform for equity-centered community design, looking to the success of Creative Reaction Labs and the logic of giving youth the tools to improve their community if they so desire.

Since receiving the Ragnar Thorisson ’11 Service and Social Innovation Grant, Hess has reached out to school principals and guidance counselors, as well as community agencies such as Mid-Iowa Community Action and the Ahrens Foundation.

“I don’t have this community knowledge,” Hess said, “but I have the time to synthesize [their information].”

Hess made her plan malleable. Over the summer she worked to revise the original proposal she summitted for the grant, reworking the plan’s vernacular to be more accessible to middle school students. By leaving the plan broad, Hess leaves room for the students she ends up working with to make their own changes regarding the program.

Hess is open to collaboration from other Grinnell College students in helping her to develop the program. Right now she is calling the group “Community Creates,” and the first meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 8:30 p.m. in JRC 209.

Kaitie Hess ’19 is the recipient of the Ragnar Thorisson ’11 Service and Social Innovation Grant through the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), which she plans to use towards engagement with local middle schoolers. Photo Contributed



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