Justification

The workshop I chose to pursue involved the recently created information resource called the C-U Wiki.  A classmate of mine realized that the wiki did not have any sort of LGBT presence, so we began to discuss ways in which we could address this silence surrounding this population.  As Randy Stoeker mentions, “For many poor and underserved communities, simply making their existence known is one of the hardest tasks of all.  Research that highlights their community and makes it visible can also help make their members’ voices heard.  Of course, it takes more than research to accomplish this. But research can be the focal point around which people organize their collective voice” (148).  Adding information from our own experiences within Champaign-Urbana seemed like a great way to begin marking an LGBT presence.  I quickly realized, however, that our understanding of the community was very limited due to our positioning within the town, university, etc.   If we were to gain insight from other individuals that make up the larger community, the C-U Wiki would have more value as an LGBT resource.  Putting on a workshop using principals of Popular Education[1] and Participatory Action Research[2] seemed like a great way to initiate this level of community ownership and involvement.

When attending an LGBT Ally training, hosted by the University of Illinois last Spring, one of the individuals on the student panel was asked about the campus climate in regards to acceptance and safety.  After the initial response seemed to mark the entire community as a safe haven, I pushed back a little by reminding the panelist of a classmate that had been hit on the head and knocked out after being called gay-themed obscenities a few years prior.  Once this memory had been triggered, all of the students started describing ways in which they navigate the area in order to avoid certain situations that could leave them vulnerable.  One tactic in particular was to avoid campus streets that were densely populated by fraternities.  John Dewey seems to explain this interaction when stating, “As an individual passes from one situation to another, his world, his environment, expands or contracts.  He does not find himself living in another world but in a different part or aspect of one and the same world. What he has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with the situations that follow” (42). Through internalizing ways of knowing what actions lead to safety or potential danger, these LGBT students have created a routine that shields them from a majority of the negative stimuli they would face otherwise.  By broadening this example to the larger Champaign-Urbana LGBT community, it is clear to see the enormous amount of knowledge and strategy that can be produced, consumed, and shared among individuals.

In conceptualizing how the wiki would work, the above example seems to point to the idea of warning others against potential dangers that await within certain spaces.  When reading Paulo Frierie, however, I became weary of the source becoming a blacklist.  Frierie explains, “Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so.  In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both” (26).  Labeling certain businesses, individuals, or spaces as unsafe or non-allies could be drawing a line of “Us. vs. Them.”  It takes time and energy of the community and focuses it on the negatives rather than celebrating the positive, thus emphasizing the bad and leaving the good hidden away from the rest of the LGBT population that may be looking for resources.  In addition, applauding the efforts of community members that are making a positive difference in the LGBT climate also welcomes and encourages others to do the same rather than becoming defensive.  In this sense, the wiki becomes not only a resource, but also an incentive for other businesses and spaces to gain reputability within the LGBT community.  The heart of the workshop, however, is community building among participants.

 

Between being part of the University of Illinois, Parkland student, the workforce within the community, or simply a citizen, there are many individuals with different experiences in Champaign Urbana.  Due to the locations of each, it is often easy for the already small (in relation to the population at large) LGBT community to be fragmented by these spatial and social divisions.  Bridging these gaps to unite the community is the major goal of both the wiki and the workshop in general.  Mary Brydon-Miller and Patricia Maguire describe this human interaction as a major part of a Participatory Action Research method of community outreach by stating, “Meaningful knowledge is created in the context of relationships, and relationship-building takes time. It takes shared work across time to get to know each other below the surface level and to begin developing trust” (88). Knowing that fostering relationships is not instantaneous, providing an opportunity for introductions to be made seemed like a first logical step towards a more united and politically engaged LGBT community.  This workshop, then, is an attempt to unite individuals through shared and unique experiences that bind together, educate, and empower the LGBT population of Champaign-Urbana.



[1] Stoeker defines the Popular Education process as follows, “Popular education process: Research question: Comes from people’s experiences; Method: Process of collecting and analyzing experiences; Data Collection:  People share experiences and collect further information to better understand those experiences; Data Analysis:  People reflect on commonalities of experience to develop deeper analysis; Reporting: A plan for change” (152)

[2] Brydon-Miller and Maguire define Participatory Action Research (PAR) as follows, “PAR expands the notion of researcher to include a range of stakeholders who collaboratively engage in all phases of the action-reflection cycle” (79).

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