Community Engagement vs. Racial Equity

Can Community Engagement Work be Racially Equitable?


  • Arien B. Telles University of Minnesota



institutional transformation, engaged institutions, critical analysis, educational equity


The literature on the transformation of higher education institutions into engaged institutions identifies the great potential this transformation can have on higher education’s ability to address pressing social issues. However, engagement work frequently operates in White racialized spaces and within systems that perpetuate racial oppression. A lack of critical reflection on this phenomenon may lead to racially inequitable or racially exclusive institutional transformation. If an understanding of racial equity work within community engagement does not occur, we run the risk that the transformation into engaged institutions will include some and not others, and those decisions will likely fall along racial lines. The purpose of this article is to identify and discuss four key findings based on a critical analysis of the ways in which the literature on transformation via engagement addresses issues of racial equity. The analysis leads to a discussion of the implications of the lack of connection between racial equity and community engagement. Most importantly, the overarching question of my own future research in this area is not if there is racial equity work taking place in community engagement initiatives, but how racial equity work is done in community engagement initiatives.

Author Biography

Arien B. Telles, University of Minnesota

Arien B. Telles is a Ph.D. candidate of higher education at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Organization Leadership, Policy and Development. Her research interests include community engagement, engaged scholarship, equitable institutional practices, and issues of racial equity and racialized spaces within the context of higher education. She is currently working on a dissertation that focuses on the ways in which community engagement addresses issues of racial equity.

Arien B. Telles
Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development
University of Minnesota
206 Burton Hall
178 Pleasant St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Telephone: 651-308-7991