Dominican University of California is partnering with two Marin County nonprofits – Canal Alliance and Performing Stars of Marin – to collaborate on programs, leverage resources, and develop college-career pathways with a long-term focus on addressing racial inequity in Marin.
The partnerships signal a deepened institutional commitment to addressing issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion, both on and off campus, says President Nicola Pitchford.
“Community-identified needs will be at the center of our work,” President Pitchford says. “We will act strategically, in concert with our partner organizations and community members, to advance the priorities of Canal and Marin City residents and advocate for greater equity across the County. This is in the university’s interests and in the County’s interests.”
Dominican has signed separate Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements with Canal Alliance and Performing Stars of Marin to deepen ongoing relationships with both organizations.
San Rafael’s Canal Alliance offers immigration legal services, education and career programs, and social services to the area’s Latino immigrant community. Marin City-based Performing Stars of Marin works with low-income, primarily multicultural, children through enrichment programs to build pride, character, discipline, and self-esteem.
These institutional level commitments to the Canal and Marin City neighborhoods will create opportunities for Dominican’s students to deepen relationships with specific organizations, understand the larger social contexts that impact marginalized communities, build practical workplace skills, and be better prepared to address pressing societal issues.
“As educators, we know that community-based teaching and learning are critical for student growth. All students, but especially underrepresented and first-generation students, learn best (and we teach best) in contexts of applied discovery and problem-solving,” President Pitchford said.
With each partner, Dominican will co-design programming based on key issues identified by local residents, co-sponsor events and initiatives, and share resources such as research and data in order to advance advocacy. Dominican also will begin to develop a pipeline for students from both Marin City and the Canal neighborhood to attend the University.
This semester's projects include:
Canal Alliance/Voces del Canal
In the Canal neighborhood, much of Dominican’s work will be formulated around the issue areas identified by Voces del Canal, a coalition of resident leaders and Latino immigrants from the Canal neighborhood.
This semester, Dr. Jennifer Lucko, program director of Dominican’s master’s program in education, is working on a Voces del Canal initiative to increase public lighting and community safety in the Canal neighborhood. Spanish bilingual Dominican students are working alongside the members of Voces del Canal as they conduct Participatory Action Research (PAR) and advocate for Canal priorities in San Rafael and Marin County.
The first phase of data collection builds on the methodology of PhotoVoice, a PAR approach in which community members document their own worlds through photography. Members of Voces del Canal have created a photo exposition that explores the lived experiences of residents who alter their daily activities in the community according to the rhythm of natural light.
During the photo exposition scheduled for February 26 on Alto Street in the Canal neighborhood, Voces del Canal members will engage with residents to better understand how the lack of street lighting in the Canal affects the lives and personal wellbeing of people living in the neighborhood. The Dominican students will record community members reflecting on their experiences and transcribe the recordings for group analysis. Later this semester, the students will interview Canal residents about their experiences with community organizing.
In addition, Professor Lynn Sondag’s community-engaged art class is collaborating with seventh graders from Next Generation Scholars to create a visual campaign to increase community awareness and promote resident advocacy for the lighting initiative. Each Wednesday afternoon, Next Generation Scholars and Dominican students are working together on the Dominican campus to create the art that will be used in the campaign.
Performing Stars of Marin
Dominican is working with Performing Stars of Marin to highlight the strengths, histories, cultural wealth, and contributions of Marin City to the greater Marin County and beyond.
This semester, Dominican students are working on the preparation, implementation, and operations of events for the upcoming Marin City 80th anniversary celebration (#MarinCity80). Dominican students, faculty, and staff are providing archival support for the artifacts and collection of oral history at the Felecia Gaston Marin City History Archive. The work includes training Dominican students as archivist interns, along with advice and technical support from the university’s archivist. Dominican will also support Performing Stars’ creation and sustainment of the Marin City History Museum at the site currently known as the Rosa House.
Microphone Mechanics, an organization that provides capacity support to organizations, will work with Performing Stars of Marin and Dominican. The organization is run by Jahi, the author of The Intersection of Hip Hop Culture and Education: The Museum Experiences.
Centering community interests, identifying systemic issues to be addressed, and honoring the strengths and knowledge present in marginalized communities is crucial to establishing equitable community partnerships and community-engaged learning, says Julia van der Ryn, executive director of Dominican’s Center for Community Engagement.
“We have a history of showing up and evolving our work in both Marin City and the Canal neighborhood,” van der Ryn says. “We have worked with these communities, listened to people who live and work in these communities, and have established trust and understanding that has laid the groundwork to take our relationships to the next level with a firm institutional commitment to racial equity, both on and off campus.”
Dominican and Canal Alliance have collaborated on a wide range of initiatives and events for almost two decades. Recent examples include the Everyone Counts Census 2020, the emergency rental assistance program, and digital literacy outreach.
In 2019 Dominican’s Service-Learning program partnered with Performing Stars of Marin and Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy on “Marin City Counts,” a public art project designed to raise awareness about the census. Census data showed the self-response rate in Marin City jumped nearly nine percentage points, to 68%. Nonprofit leaders attribute this jump to local outreach, including the "Marin City Counts" campaign.
As envisioned in the Center for Community Engagement’s Civic Action plan, the goal of these institutional commitments is to expand Dominican's role as an active and invaluable partner dedicated to promoting social and environmental justice within communities.
The partnerships are aligned with President Pitchford’s commitment to “teaching for ethical action” by developing University capacity to respond to three key areas:
- The urgent demand for racial equity.
- The growing gulf between rich and poor.
- The climate and natural resource emergency.
The experience, knowledge, and connections generated by the partnerships will inform Dominican as the university continues its work advancing equity and diversity on campus as outlined in its strategic diversity plan.