The College of Liberal Arts (COLA) at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) has already begun many exciting and impactful community engagement projects set for 2022.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of its mission, the COLA has dedicated its efforts to representing a wide array of Northern Nevada’s diverse populations.

As a board member for COLA and Dickson Realty Broker-Manager in our Downtown Reno office, I am proud to share the resources we have created with new and former members of our community. That’s why I asked Debra Moddelmog, Dean and Professor of English for COLA, to provide insight into how community engagement can positively impact the state of Nevada and beyond.

“We connect the community to the college and the college to the community,” Debra said. “This is how we’ve been able to advance initiatives, both locally and nationally.”

I also asked Daniel Enrique Pérez, the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at COLA, to share more in-depth knowledge about connecting with hard-to-reach audience members and why participation is essential for community engagement.

Photo by Gabriela Tafolla

Together, we discussed the past, present, and future of UNR in its quest to provide higher education and a better quality of life to the citizens of Northern Nevada.

Here’s a sneak peek into what’s happening in the first quarter of 2022 and what’s next:

  • COLA’s 2019 to 2024 Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Four, New Interdisciplinary Affinity Working Groups By 2023
  • Latino Research Center For LatinX Outreach and Research
  • Two, University-Wide Searches for a Director of Community Indigenous Relations and NAGPRA Liaison and Project Manager
  • “ReTHINKING…” The Thought On Tap Series
  • Elevating Humanity Podcast
  • Donations to the College of Liberal Arts

UNR Leaders Talk About How Community Engagement Can Provide Access To Higher Education

The College of Liberal Arts at UNR has helped the Northern Nevada region grow exponentially with its community engagement efforts. With history and future in mind, Debra and Daniel are sharing ideas to enhance the lives of students and community members in a multi-faceted approach.

A Foundation Built on Community Engagement

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Since its founding in 1874, UNR has provided higher education—a complex and diverse process—to Northern Nevada’s citizens. Over the years, the University has grown from serving less than 10 students to more than 20,000 in the 2020/2021 academic year.

As the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at COLA, Daniel Enrique Pérez talked about how community engagement efforts have contributed to the UNR’s growth.

“Community engagement is an essential process at the University,” Daniel said. “Not just because we’re a public, land-grant institution, but because we are committed to building mutually beneficial relationships with communities across the state of Nevada and beyond.”

Debra, Dean and Professor of English for COLA, shared some insight into how the college aims to serve diverse audiences with its 2019 to 2024 Strategic Plan.

“We have several benchmarks and diverse projects we want to accomplish,” Debra said.

This plan encompasses a broad array of cultural factors, including age, ability, religion, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, first-generation college status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, nation of origin, gender and gender identity, language, immigration status, and veteran status.

Affinity Groups Providing Access To Diverse Communities

COLA facilitates and supports interdisciplinary affinity working groups that recommend new directions and action plans based on critical issues related to each group. Since 2019, four have been established, including the Indigenous, Latinx Studies, Black Scholars, and AAPI working groups. With plans to develop four more groups by 2023, COLA wants to create groups that represent diverse community members.

“I appreciate how committed these groups are to expanding our community engagement efforts,” Daniel said. “They don’t view it as a job, but rather an investment.”

He also talked about another successful community engagement project—the Latino Research Center (LRC), working in partnership with COLA and local organizations to advance the social position of the Latinx community and engage in related research.

As Nevada’s fastest-growing minority population, it is vital to provide Latinx access to community resources. To accomplish this, the LRC frequently hosts educational-cultural events like El Día de Los Muertos Celebration and the Hispanic Heritage Month event series featuring Latinx artists, authors, and film showings.

“LRC has been central to our ability to engage with LatinX audiences and community members,” Daniel said.

Honoring Local Indigenous Tribes

Daniel talked more about the importance of collaboration and how engagement efforts—on and off-campus—have helped COLA guide diverse initiatives. One group, in particular, is very active in the community, he explained.

The Indigenous Working Group is committed to advancing the interests of Native Americans on campus and in the community. For example, the group has been actively engaged in culture and language revitalization, working diligently to heal some of the trauma caused by boarding schools used to assimilate native youth into a non-native society forcibly.

The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum in Carson City. Photo from Travel Nevada/Sydney Martinez

The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum—an Indian boarding school in Carson City that closed in 1980 and now serves as a museum and educational center—has been instrumental in helping the group accomplish its mission by partnering with UNR faculty and students.

“We’re dedicated to breaking down barriers between the institution and its surrounding Indigenous communities,” Daniel said.

The college is also conducting two university-wide searches for professionals willing to help the institution connect with Northern Nevada’s Indigenous communities.

“The first position is for a Director of Community Indigenous Relations,” Daniel said. “We are looking for someone who can help strengthen our relationships and impact.”

The second search is for a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Liaison and Project Manager.

“This person will be in contact with Indigenous leaders to help the University return and repatriate items of cultural patrimony and ancestral remains belonging to Native American tribes,” Debra said.

This effort is long overdue, she explained. There are more than 116,000 Native American ancestors still held by institutions across the country, and many of the institutions have not linked the remains to a particular tribe.

“We’re working diligently to make right a long-standing wrong,” Debra said.

Adding Value To Community Engagement

Participation in community engagement enables people to gain knowledge awareness of the democratic process, autonomy, pride, and self-reliance. In many ways, community engagement is shared accountability and responsibility for the outcome of a process. To ensure maximum participation, COLA enhances its resources and projects by defining and guiding programs at the community level.

Thought on Tap - UNR College of Liberal Arts Engagement

The Thought on Tap engagement series does just that. A collaboration between the Core Humanities program and Laughing Planet, COLA brings diverse faculty, staff, students, and community members together for meaningful conversations around timely topics.

“We can’t always expect community members to come to us,” Daniel said.

Laughing Planet, located near the University, is a popular socializing hub with clean, whole-food ingredients and tasty drinks. It also has a charitable giving policy that focuses on programs supporting social justice, the environment, education, and democracy.

“The series has quickly become one of our most successful programs,” Debra said.

She explained that this year’s theme focuses on rethinking academia, artivism (which blends social justice activism and art), conservatism, sports, tech overlords, and more. However, with the rise in COVID-19 cases, the series has moved online but remains free and open to the public.

COLA recently launched the Elevating Humanity Podcast to broaden its outreach further, interviewing faculty members on their research and creative work on diverse communities. New episodes are posted regularly on all major podcasting platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

Debra and Daniel also talked about what participation means to COLA faculty members and staff. Many of them have started community-driven initiatives on their own throughout the years and have submitted engagement requests to COLA.

“We don’t have to encourage them to do this work,” Debra said. “It comes from their level of passion and heart.”

How To Help COLA Overcome Obstacles

Although the passion is there, it is often difficult to find enough resources and time to bring a community engagement project to life.

“A faculty or staff member will often have a great idea,” Daniel said. “But it’s not always easy to obtain the resources.”

He explained that the college receives most of its engagement resources through connections and collaboration. But this also means educating community members about different engagement and funding opportunities to get more involved.

Groups such as Alianza, an association at the University, are committed to addressing topics specifically related to the Chicanx, LatinX, Indigenous, and other underrepresented groups in the Northern Nevada region. By supporting the Alianza Scholarship Fund, community members can help provide financial assistance and other vital resources to students from diverse backgrounds.

COLA’s general-use Diversity Fund also supports campus initiatives and programming such as events and guest speakers. Daniel shared insight into how the engagement committee meets regularly to review proposals from different departments.

“We use the resources from the Diversity Fund to support campus programming and guest speakers,” Daniel said. “We also set aside funding for our community engagement activities.”

COLA is committed to elevating humanity and invites community members to join. So, if you’d like to learn more about COLA’s Diversity, Research, and Engagement efforts, click here. To donate, click here or contact Jillian Szewczak

Debra explained that another essential part of community engagement is the dedication of staff and faculty members—many have projects and passions of their own outside of the institution.

“We want to support faculty as they pursue their scholarly and community engagement activities,” Debra said. “But they often struggle to fit another project into their busy schedules, and we’d like to help them to get credit for the work they’re doing.”

With this in mind, COLA and the University aim to support faculty and staff members pursuing scholarly activities. You can support them too by donating to the faculty and staff fund.

Daniel talked about one faculty member’s initiative to start a Northern Nevada Youth Pride Band, which will include high school students from across the state.

“Our vision is to have them participate in the Northern Nevada Pride Parade this summer,” Daniel said. “So, we are hoping to get enough funding to help them buy t-shirts or anything they might need.”

He explained that community support like this can help faculty members solve problems and persevere into the future.

“It will also provide them with the tools they need to reach diverse audience members.”

A Look Into The Future

In 2022, COLA has plans to focus more on the authentic human connection while also giving people more virtual options for safe participation.

“We have to be innovative in the way we deliver engagement,” Debra said. “It’s important to be mindful of the world and think about how to meet the different needs of people.”

“It’s important to look at the bigger picture and be empathetic towards each other,” Daniel said. “We’re all facing challenges in one way or another.”

At Dickson Realty, we’re passionate about supporting UNR and its mission to make Northern Nevada a better place to live. Contact one of our neighborhood professionals today to learn more about how we engage with clients and community members.