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The Context of Community Engagement

As demonstrated by Colby et al. (2003) and Saltmarsh (2011), Adams’s eighteenth century idea of this “social compact” still resonates in twenty-first century higher education and is manifest at many postsecondary institutions in their community engagement. The term “community engagement,” however, has no single agreed-upon definition. Thus, it is worth clarifying how we conceptualize this work.

Community Engagement Defined

The Swearer Center (2019), host of the Carnegie Classification for community engagement, defines community engagement as:

The collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial creation and exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity’. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership (of knowledge and resources) between colleges and universities and the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity'; enhance curriculum, teaching, and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

(para. 1-2)

Although numerous definitions of community engagement in higher education exist, we uphold the above definition as a reputable, comprehensive, and accurate articulation of Calvin University’s community' engagement.

The Role of Christian Higher Education

Space does not permit an exhaustive disentanglement of faith and higher education over four centuries of higher education in America, but suffice it to say that colleges and universities identifying as Christian today bear a responsibility to understand this story more than others. In that story, the responsibility of educating citizens has played a complicated role, often because of how notions of heavenly citizenship come to bear in the process of education. In any case, civic learning, civic engagement, and the development of civic skills are all key functions the Christian university ought to be seeking to fillfill. In addition, the question of citizenship and its link to education is one that is complicated by the ambiguous identity of inmates in American prisons. Many Christian traditions invoke a metaphor of “kingdom citizenship” to describe life on earth in between the death and resurrection of Jesus and his second coming to usher in a new and renewed reality on earth. This tension between citizens of a heavenly kingdom and

Equipping Students for a “Specific Uprising” 187 citizens of a nation-state (some of whom may have their citizenship partially or completely taken away by the state) is one that Christian colleges and universities will wrestle with in unique and serious ways.

 
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