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Public health professor named to BIPOC leadership cohort

For Candace Robertson-James, DrPH, helping La Salle University strengthen community partnerships is a priority.

To aid this progress, Robertson-James—an assistant professor of public health and director of La Salle’s public health programs—is one of six professionals gaining invaluable tools through the inaugural BIPOC Leadership Collective cohort.

The fellowship, organized by the Place-Based Justice Network (PBJN), self-identifies as a program to “uplift professionals of color in the community engagement field (both on and off campus) to powerfully lean into who they are, who they are called to become, and how they can work towards positive change in our field.”

The program is facilitated by PBJN steering committee members and is made up of professionals from all levels of experience and expertise throughout its network.

The fellows will participate in a variety of programs including a one-day retreat prior to the summer 2022 PBJN Institute, monthly Zoom calls, individualized coaching, and the PBJN leaders retreat in December. Working with the PBJN steering committee, the cohort will support the PBJN network by providing leadership to their respective member institutions.

Becoming a PBJN member institution allowed La Salle to submit a faculty candidate for consideration of this new fellowship. “La Salle has a long commitment to community-engaged learning,” vice president of Mission, Diversity and Inclusion Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, D. Min. “It is a curriculum that exemplifies the university’s core values ​​of ‘Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Service Rooted in Justice and Solidarity’. Joining PBJN immediately opened doors for La Salle to take advantage of this new fellowship. Because of Dr. Robert-James’ commitment to community-engaged learning in our Belfield neighborhood and beyond, she was an obvious candidate to recommend for consideration.”

Candace Robertson-James, DrPH
Candace Robertson-James, DrPH, speaks about La Salle’s public health programs with prospective students and their families at an Early Explorer Experience on campus in Fall 2021.

Hearing of her nomination, Robertson-James was eager for the chance to gain more tools to better work with the community surrounding La Salle.

“I come from a background in public health, but I’ve had the privilege of being able to work with communities in different ways throughout my career,” she explained.

Roberston-James recently completed another national fellowship, the BMe Vanguard Fellowship program—a leadership experience designed and facilitated by leading global authorities on social innovation, influence, health, finance, narrative, race, and culture.

While Roberston-James is in the early stages of the BIPOC Leadership Collective, she said she’s enjoying hearing and learning from the rest of the cohort. She’s grateful for the opportunity to network with other BIPOC leaders engaged in place-based and community initiatives in their institutions and describes meetings as “a wonderful space of sharing, vulnerability and support.”

“I am intrigued and looking forward to learning more about the ways in which they all through their various roles and entities, engage with community members from across the gamut from curricular initiatives to faculty and courses to larger institutional perspectives,” she said.

PBJN lists multiple outcomes it hopes fellows receive from the experience. These include:

  • Developing a sense of community among BIPOC Community Engagement professionals (institutions and community partners);
  • Exhibiting increased comfort with vulnerability and growing in the understanding of the importance of integrity and humility in community-based work;
  • Demonstrating enhanced understanding of personal and institutional dynamics of power, oppression, and agency in community-engaged activities and practices;
  • Supporting the PBJ Network through a collective consultancy/coaching effort (that could potentially evolve into being a revenue generator);
  • Incorporating anti-oppression frameworks that recognize intersectionality into community engagement practices; and
  • Creating opportunities for multiple diverse voices to co-construct a new paradigm for service-learning and community engagement that weaves epistemic justice together with existing critical theories and practices in the field.

From her public health background, Robertson-James is interested in learning how to add more of a community-derived element to the curriculum, working in tandem with the scientific elements of programming.

“La Salle has a long commitment to community-engaged learning. It is a curriculum that exemplifies the university’s core values ​​of ‘Teaching and Learning’ and ‘Service Rooted in Justice and Solidarity’. Joining PBJN immediately opened doors for La Salle to take advantage of this new fellowship. Because of Dr. Robert-James’ commitment to community-engaged learning in our Belfield neighborhood and beyond, she was an obvious candidate to recommend for consideration,”

– Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, D. Min., vice president of Mission, Diversity and Inclusion

“I’ve always loved the idea of ​​really having community members and community constituents intimately engaged in my curriculum development,” she said. “So I would love to learn more about that or to have an opportunity to maybe partner around some of that and to see how that would look.”

From the Joint Commission perspective, Robertson-James said the fellowship will help provide some insight into how to make its goals a reality, including through forming stronger community partnerships and making more of the Commission’s recommendations come to fruition.

“One of the ways in which we promote and enact social justice is through the very realized partnerships that we have with our community and making space for that,” she said.

She said hopefully this can be one support beam of a larger foundation in supporting the Joint Commission’s work.

“I’m very humbled to be a part of it and to have it be a part of La Salle. Hopefully it’s an opportunity to continue some of this Joint Commission’s work as we move forward to the realization of some of the other parts of the recommendations,” she added.

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