Article published in Gateways Journal: A Relational Approach to Transforming Power in a Community-University Partnership

I and former UEP students Zoë Ackerman and Joceline Fidalgo have published the article “A Relational Approach to Transforming Power in a Community-University Partnership” in Gateways International Journal of Community Research and Engagement in December 2021. It explores the power dynamics in our Co-Education/Co-Research (CORE) partnership between Tufts UEP and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

Access the full text and PDF at this link: The abstract is reprinted below.

This paper is part of special volume edited by Margaret Post and Morgan Ruelle at Clark University. We benefited greatly from their feedback and the discussions we had with the other authors of the papers in this issue who convened several times over a year and a half.


We use a relational understanding of power to analyse power dynamics at the institutional and interpersonal levels in our multi-year Co-Education/Co-Research (CORE) partnership between Tufts University Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). Power in community-university partnerships is often examined only at the institutional level, conceiving of power as a resource to be balanced and shared. Indeed, CORE has advanced institutional shifts through co-governance, equitable funding, co-production of curriculum and cross-flow of people. While institutional policies and practices are critical, they alone do not transform deep-seated hierarchies that value university knowledge, practices and people over community. To understand how intertwined interpersonal and institutional practices can reproduce or transform these cultural and ideological dynamics, we use a relational approach, understanding that power flows in and through all relations. As community members, students and faculty, we reflect on the contradictions we have encountered in CORE. We examine how we reinforce the dominance of academic over community knowledge, even as we leverage institutional power to further community goals. These tensions can be opportunities for shifting, disrupting and transforming towards more equitable relations, but they can also reproduce and reinforce the status quo. Through reflective practice and a relational ethic of care, we can try to recognise when we might be shifting power relations and when we might be reproducing them. This is messy work that requires a lot of communication, trust, reflection and time. A relational approach to power provides hope that we can be part of the change we seek in all of our relations, every day. And it reminds us that no matter what we have institutionalised or encoded, our individual beings, organisations and communities are always in a process of becoming.

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Distinguished Senior Lecturer and Director of Master of Public Policy and Community Practice, Tufts University Department of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning

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