Hart Leadership Program convenes planning retreat

Sanford building

Sanford Building Aerials

In late April, the Hart Leadership Program hosted a retreat to discuss and reflect upon some of its key aspirational missions and work.

The conversation included more than 20 stakeholders—faculty, staff and students—from across the University and focused on three broad areas: how HLP engages with its alumni, works in the Durham community, and supports student research.

HLP Director Gunther Peck produced the following takeaways from the discussion. They will guide HLP’s work over the next year.

  1. Alumni Development: Facilitated by Tony Brown

As a mission-defined program, we take seriously the lifelong ethical and leadership development of our current, former, and future students. When we ranked our preferences for how we should engage our former students and alumni, there was near universal agreement that we need to create a database that will keep track of our alumni, of their particular civic and political engagements, and of their capacity to join and enhance the pedagogical mission of the Hart Leadership Program.

There was less agreement about how we should engage alumni, however, with some favoring the 25- and 36-hour events, and also some support for city-based forums of alumni engagement. Participants also expressed some disagreement about who we should call “our” alumni: Hart Fellows, SOL alumni, ELI alumni, or students who recall or remain connected to particular faculty now or formerly teaching in the HLP.

Moving forward, we are building a database of engaged alumni and hope to foment opportunities for some of them to work with our current students around common projects that are mutually beneficial to students and alumni alike. This past year, we brought several former students to our classes to discuss their expertise, research experiences, and life stories, providing our students, current and former, ample opportunities to learn, engage, and reflect with one another.  We hope to do more of the same in the coming year and welcome you, if teaching an HLP class, to consider contacting former students if there are pedagogical opportunities that would enrich your class. We also are considering hosting a 25 or 36 hour gathering of HLP students and alumni, in the spring of 2020 and a gathering for a period during Homecoming Weekend in the Fall.

  1. Durham: Facilitated by Bob Korstad

Our aspirations for the Hart Leadership Program in Durham have grown out of lifelong interests in fomenting civic and political engagement in Durham and beyond. That said, we fully realize that we are not unique and that our aspirations to build partnerships in Durham dovetail with a number of faculty-initiated and institutional commitments by Duke to “Durham partners.” Rather than reinventing wheels or replicating well-intentioned efforts that have alternately succeeded or backfired in Durham, we at the HLP are committed to finding ways to “do good” and to “do justice” simultaneously, linking individual acts of service to broader systemic challenges that have deep historical roots. We were happy to learn about many of the transformative engagements that Duke teachers and students have forged in Durham. We also want a clearer picture of the specific pedagogical engagements that you or your students have experienced or fomented in Durham. If you could please provide us a brief description of the pedagogical engagements you have facilitated, past to present, we would be especially grateful. It will help us best organize our efforts and also structure how we engage “Durham” moving forward.

We take very seriously the ethical challenges involved in bringing Duke students into often temporary or fleeting engagements with Durham’s residents and their community partners. To counter those potential harms, we seek to do two things deliberately and immediately within the HLP: as Bob suggested and others seconded, we are committed that all teachers working within the HLP experience race-equity training before they return to the classroom; and that we build and  foment long-term collaborations with particular community partners in Durham, to the mutual benefit of our students, our community partners, and the diverse communities across Durham they serve. These collaborations might exist between one instructor and a particular community partner in a given semester or might be shared between several classes. As we move forward, we aim to nurture ongoing relationships between several Hart faculty and particular community partners in Durham, collaborating across classes and semesters to create enduring partnerships with Durham’s change makers.

We recognize that democracy work in Durham requires that Duke faculty and students alike begin not with solutions or prescriptions, but with listening, open-ended questions, and humility. By the same token, the privilege and wealth that many Duke students and faculty possess do not preclude mutually beneficial collaborations between HLP and Durham residents. In light of recent challenges that may have strained Duke-Durham relations, the question is not whether we foster engagement and collaboration, but how. We plan to build on HLP’s time-tested practice of community-based research that enabled HLP students to forge enduring partnerships with community-based partners across the planet for more than three decades.

  1. Research: Facilitated by Kate Whetten

In our lively discussion of research that Kate facilitated, we began by observing how challenging and difficult it has been to connect faculty research to the community-based questions that many Duke undergraduates have fomented, either within DukeEngage, RSL classes, ELI, or the HLP’s signature SOL leadership sequence. However effective and transformative community-based research and action has been for our students, and sometimes for our community partners, few of the research topics that students have pursued have led directly to or been part of policy or academic research. We also noted that some of our research service-learning initiatives in which students perform valuable service for a local organization over the course of a semester, rarely engage thematic research questions or challenges.  Service remains a valuable experience for many students but is largely unconnected to particular class themes or community research objectives.

That said, we also discussed several models that seem especially useful for fomenting transformative undergraduate research. The first, as described by Kate in the example of Sahara, began with a community’s partner’s research needs and led to an ongoing and sustained relationship between faculty and a local community partner, with students performing valuable research of direct benefit to local actors. A version of this model is also provided by Bob Korstad’s “What’s Up Durham Class,” in which students have worked with Durham community partners in creating a public history project over the course of several semesters of teaching. This model has occurred within the context of a single semester. One exciting model described by Deondra Rose for her core Sanford class, PPS 301 (also an HLP class), a kind of policy clinic in which legislators and local non-profit actors across the state of North Carolina were offered opportunities to have particular research questions investigated and answered by her students within a single semester. A hybrid version of the clinic and community partner models has been utilized by Tony Brown in his ELI class, with students working with particular community partners that have collaborated with Tony over many semesters.

Moving forward, we will be supporting student research that foments collaboration and connection with community partners in Durham and beyond. We also want to continue piloting new ways of reaching broader cohorts of engaged actors within particular classes, as Deondra recently has done.

 While most of the ethical and experiential capacities and skills necessary for fomenting systemic change and leadership will continue to be taught in particular classes, we want to maximize the opportunities for our students to see their research as part of larger public commitments within the Hart Leadership Program.  We know that this is challenging to do well.  But if we don’t reflect on the pedagogical opportunities that exist among and between Hart students across several classes, our work as educators, however transformative, will remain isolated.  We can, as educators, researchers, and citizens, do better.