A Framework for Justice-Centering Relationships: Implications for Impact in Place-Based Community Engagement


  • Melissa Quan Fairfield University Center for Social Impact




Community engagement, community impact, student learning, place-based community engagement, epistemic justice


Community engagement in higher education has been promoted as critical to fulfilling higher education’s responsibility to the public good through teaching, learning, and knowledge generation. Reciprocity and mutual benefit are key principles of community engagement that connote a two-way exchange of knowledge and outcomes. However, it is not clear from existing literature whether community engagement impacts communities in positive ways. 

The problem addressed through this study was how campus-community partnership stakeholders define impact. Using grounded theory, the ways community and campus partners defined, measured, and understood community impact in a diverse set of campus-community partnerships at two U.S. urban, Jesuit universities that employ place-based approach to community engagement were explored. Relationships as facilitators of impact and as impacts in and of themselves emerged as central themes. Themes from the data led to the development of the Justice-Centering Relationships Framework which includes two paradigms for understanding community impact in higher education community engagement – Plug-and-Play and Justice-Centering Relationships – that are bridged by a Reframing process. The Framework contributes to and informs the “how” of taking a place-based community engagement approach that leads to positive benefits for community impact, student learning and formation, and institutional change.


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