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The Academy and the Community

The Faculty Resource Network (FRN) held a three-day institute entitled “The Academy and the Community,” which took place from June 20-22, 2012, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Institute, which was hosted by the Center for Puerto Rico, consisted of two seminars on issues around communication and collaboration between colleges and universities, and the communities that surround them. The seminars focused on “Citizenship” and “Empowering Women,” both topics of great interest to FRN and to the Center of Puerto Rico, which has among its primary objectives strengthening ethical values and social responsibility, and advancing the role of women in society. Faculty participants were housed at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.

The following seminars were offered during the institute:

Empowering Women

The Program

Since the beginning of Western democracy, the concept of citizenship has been considered the main ingredient in the constitution of political order. That is, political order has been organized according to a body of citizens’ rights and duties, where governments are legitimized according to their ability to protect those privileges and responsibilities. With the appearance of the modern state, the development of liberal ideas and the resulting institutionalization of representative governments, citizenship grew in scope, in terms of the rights it encompassed, rose above its political boundaries, and became economic, cultural and social.

Education remains an essential element of citizenship. Tocqueville insisted that the main purpose of formal education was to promote the “habits of the heart,” believing that culture would enhance citizenship. More than a century ago, John Dewey challenged academia to look to civic involvement for the betterment of community. Today, the challenge remains and has even increased in light of a more inter-related world, where human rights assume a privileged stand. Today, the struggle for citizenship presumes two things—the need to educate a citizen who can think globally, notwithstanding his/her duty to act locally, and a generalized claim for inclusion of all those social sectors that have become irrelevant to the new economic processes. Universities must assume social responsibility for these tasks.

This three-day seminar addressed the most pressing issues associated with the concept of citizenship, including its various dimensions, the universality of the rights it claims, and its fragility in a world without governments strong enough to protect its essence. In addition, the seminar examined the university’s social responsibility to generate good and active citizens.

Our discussions engaged participants in a critical analysis of the readings and the current relevance of citizenship. It was expected that, at the end of the seminar, all participants will have received concrete ideas that may lead to the advancement of strategies for citizen development on their campuses and in their communities. Discussion topics included:

  • Political, social, and cultural citizenship
  • Social responsibility, institutional responsibility, and exclusion
  • The decline of traditional political participation and novel forms of political engagement
  • The struggle for inclusion or the rights and access to services of women, the elderly, the youth, the handicap, migrants, and the urban poor
  • Civic education, the community, the university, and global citizenship: normative considerations and experiences

Jorge Benitez holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a full professor of social policy and research methods in the doctoral program on administration and analysis of social policies at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He has held several administrative positions related to the Dean of Academic Affairs and the social sciences faculty. Also, he has contributed, for over a decade, with the Honors Program’s interdisciplinary seminars. Prof. Benítez Nazario’s fruitful research and academic publications has been mostly focused on political culture, tolerance, social exclusion and citizenship. His most recent book is Ciudadanía y Exclusión en Puerto Rico (San Juan, 2010). From 1995 until 2006 he coordinated de World Values Survey for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. At present, he coordinates the Council of Ethics and Values at the Center for Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization that promotes the economic advancement and citizenship of poor communities and women on the island.

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The Program

Collaboration between academics and community leaders, coupled with community service initiatives for students as part of the curriculum, were an integral part of the curriculum at many minority-serving institutions long before the term “service learning” came into fashion. The history and the mission of these institutions are deeply rooted in the communities they serve. Access to higher education and active involvement in community affairs have been, and continue to be, paths to personal growth and collective advancement for minorities as well as for women. This institute offered faculty from U.S. institutions the opportunity to observe, discuss, and compare specific interactions between academia and community that seek to empower women in a Hispanic cultural context.

A review of the guiding assumptions, outcomes, and lessons learned through actual service learning and community partnership initiatives underway was the focal point of this institute. Initiatives of interest to our institute included:

  • Cantera Península Project
  • Instituto Empresarial para la Mujer/Women’s Business Institute (WBI)
  • Centro de Vinculación Comunitaria/Community Engagement Center (CEC)
  • Redesigning Shelters for Abused Women
  • A new electronic portal about gender violence
  • The Women in Agriculture Initiative

A site visit to the Cantera project was part of institute activities. Other activities included a poster session, luncheon discussion sessions, and class presentations by participants in various initiatives. Institute participants had the opportunity to engage initiative promoters, community leaders, and faculty involved in these projects in discussions of these and other topics.

The course readings provided participants with information concerning the history and economic context of Puerto Rico, best practices for forming partnerships and collaborations, and a discussion of the empowerment of women. Readings drew from, but were not limited to: Susan M. Collin (ed), Restoring Growth in Puerto Rico: Overview and Policy Options; Paquita Vivo (ed), Puerto Rico: 500 Years of Change and Continuity; John Kania and Mark Kramer, “Collective Impact;” Francie Ostrower, “The Reality Underneath the Buzz of Partnerships: The Potentials and Pitfalls of Partnering;” the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future; and Koni Benson and Richa Negar, “Collaboration as Resistance? Reconsidering the Processes, Products, and Possibilities of Feminist Oral History and Ethnography.” A key dimension of the institute will be a critical reflection on the rich possibilities and real risks of service-learning initiatives and community partnerships. Participants examined how respectful, enduring, and mutually beneficial interactions between academics and community groups are achieved.


Margarita Benitez's lifelong involvement with higher education began at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), where she was born and raised. As Chancellor of the UPR-Cayey Campus, she created the Women’s Studies Project, now in its 25th year. She has held various senior positions at the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. She has been a consultant to the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Excelencia in Education, Lumina Foundation, and Southern Education Foundation, among others. Together with Teresa Langle de Paz, she directs Women’s Knowledge International.

Beverly Guy-Sheftall is founding director of the Women's Research & Resource Center and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies and English at Spelman College. She is past president of the National Women's Studies Association. Her most recent books are Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women's Studies (with Stanlie James and Frances Smith Foster) and Who Should Be First: Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign (with Johnnetta Betsch Cole).

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