ProCES 25th Anniversary

Community-Engaged Scholarship at Princeton & Beyond 


On April 3, 4, and 5th, 2024, the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), formerly the Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI), celebrated 25 years of the program’s life at Princeton University. The activities featured a selection of regional and national scholar-practitioners from universities and community-based organizations whose work exemplifies community-engaged teaching, learning, and research collaborations around topics of community history, environmental and racial justice, refugee and immigrant settlement, and food access and justice. 

Photo credits: Sameer Kahn


Keynote Address and Reception: Research Universities as Partners in Community-Engaged Scholarship

Keynote Address

Research Universities as Partners in Community-Engaged Scholarship

Keynote Address by 

Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark

Remarks by:

Professor D. Vance Smith, Department of English;

Dana Hughes Moorhead, Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS);

Jalen Travis '24, Football, Truman Scholar, Anthropology, African American Studies, ProCES Student Advisory Board

Co-Sponsored by the Department of African American Studies

Read the transcript of Chancellor Cantor's keynote address


Screening and community discussion of  Descendant

participants at opening reception engage with Descendant panelists

Screening and community discussion of  Descendant

In partnership with the Princeton Public Library, this event featured a screening and discussion with Ms. Joycelyn Davis, Africatown community advocate, co-founder and Vice-President of the Clotilda Descendants Association and organizer of the Spirit of Our Ancestors Festival, and Dr. Kern Jackson, co-writer and co-producer of the award-winning documentary Descendant, Associate Professor & Director of the African American Studies Program, University of South Alabama. The discussion was facilitated by Magdely Michelle Diaz de Leon '24, Medical Anthropology, Environmental studies.

Descendant follows members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to illegally transport human beings as cargo from Africa to America. The ship’s existence, a centuries-old open secret, is confirmed by a team of marine archeologists. The film explores implications of the Clotilda’s discovery for the descendants, who grapple with their heritage while claiming the power to shape their own destinies. Descendant received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.


Connecting Campus, Curriculum, and Communities 

for Reciprocal Gains: Engaged Scholarship at Swarthmore

guests listen to Swarthmore panelists

Connecting Campus, Curriculum, and Communities for Reciprocal Gains: Engaged Scholarship at Swarthmore

This panel presentation addressed the overall approach the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility has taken under the leadership of Ben Berger to reimagine engaged scholarship at Swarthmore, which has focused on faculty collaborations, curricular innovations, and deep community partnerships. Katie Price offered a brief overview of particularly successful programs in the Arts & Humanities, including the center's partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and the recently launched Engaged Humanities Studio. Yaroub Al-Obaidi and Katie Price then co-presented on Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary, a project that brings together book artists with members of the resettled Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian communities. The project was formally recognized by the City of Philadelphia for its contributions to the community in 2019, and has since continued in several forms, including the formation of an Arabic-English newspaper in the city of Philadelphia(Link is external), several academic publications, and a new course—cross-listed in Arabic and English—Refuge: Resettled in Philadelphia, which brings community partners, students, and instructors together to co-create a comic book about “sticky families.”

Panelists: Ben Berger '90 is Executive Director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and Associate Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College; Katie L. Price is Senior Associate Director of the Lang Center and teaches courses in the English department at Swarthmore College; Yaroub Al-Obaidi is an Iraqi-American conceptual and social artist and is a PhD candidate and lecturer in Rhetoric and Communications at Duquesne University. 


Responsible Research Practices with Environmental Justice Communities: Africatown Community History

Africatown panelists present to audience

Responsible Research Practices with Environmental Justice Communities: Africatown Community History

In 1860, the last ship of enslaved people landed on the shore of Mobile Bay. After the end of the Civil War, these survivors of the Middle Passage bought land on the plateau above the river, built homes and a school, and called this place Africantown. Africatown was a sanctuary for Black Americans throughout Reconstruction and Jim Crow. However, like many historic Black towns along the Gulf Coast, Africatown has been surrounded by polluting industries located on former plantation grounds. Present and avoidable threats include ongoing pollution, rezoning of residential areas to heavy industry, and increased truck traffic diverted from a new toll bridge. In the wake of the 2019 discovery of the slaveship Clotilda, Africatown has attracted international attention through the award-winning 2022 documentary Descendant. Black descendant communities like Africatown are knowledge keepers, maintaining stories, ceremonies, and practices. 

The panelists presented about some of the many vectors of their longstanding and iterative community-based research and teaching collaborations. Ms. Joycelyn Davis, a Clotilda Descendant, has been engaged in a lifelong project to tell Africatown’s story and support the community’s ability to survive and thrive. Dr. Kern Jackson, a trained oral historian, has been documenting oral traditions in the community since his arrival at the University of South Alabama. Currently, Dr. Jackson is co-PI on an NSF grant focused on responsible research with environmental justice communities with faculty from Oberlin and Tennessee State University. Students in Professor Jay Fiskio’s Environmental Studies courses first began partnering with Africatown in 2014, and since then the community has warmly welcomed generations of Oberlin students. Community historians have mentored student researchers and invited students to learn the history of Africatown through oral history interviews, including Kai Vera Menafee, Oberlin '24, who spoke about the importance of "returning" in the work of community-engaged research. 

Panelists: Jay Fiskio Professor and Director of Environmental Studies, Chair of Food Studies, Oberlin College; Ms. Joycelyn Davis, co-founder and Vice-President of the Clotilda Descendants Association and organizer of the Spirit of Our Ancestors Festival; Dr. Kern Jackson, co-writer and co-producer of the documentary film Descendant, Associate Professor & Director of the African American Studies Program, University of South Alabama; and Kai Vera Menafee, a senior at Oberlin College majoring in Africana Studies and Dance, with a minor in Environmental Studies and concentration in Education; Dr. Anu Ramaswami, Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the High Meadows Environmental Institute, provided commentary on the panel.


Princeton's Inaugural Community-Engaged Research Institute (CERI)

Food Justice and Oral History

participants and presenters at CERI 2024

Princeton's Inaugural Community-Engaged Research Institute (CERI)

Food Justice and Oral History

Sponsored by the Derian Student Internship Fund, School of Public & International Affairs (SPIA), Princeton Humanities Council, Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research & Innovation, Princeton Food Project, Department of Anthropology

This gathering of academic and community scholar-practitioners was designed to highlight outstanding community-engaged research, teaching, and mentored-undergraduate research focusing on The Heirloom Gardens Project. The institute provided a forum for exchanging knowledge, collaboration, and building coalitions rooted in rigorous scholarship and commitments to systems change. The gathering also served as the launch of the 2024 Derian Summer Internship Program, a faculty-mentored, community-engaged undergraduate research program.

The Heirloom Gardens Oral History Project (HGP) is a collaboration of Princeton University, Spelman College, and the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance to collect oral histories of people who have worked to preserve Black and Indigenous seed and foodways throughout the Southeastern United States and Appalachia. It is currently funded by the Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation, an initiative of the Office of the Dean for Research at Princeton University. Working across six sites over two years, students and faculty will work with communities to interview and archive the stories of farmers, gardeners, chefs, community organizers, local historians and others who have been actively sustaining rich farming, culinary, and medicinal traditions. To date, HGP has collected over seventy interviews and is currently processing the files to be deposited in the oral history archive at Spelman College and hosted for public access by Atlanta University Center’s Woodruff Library. HGP is also developing a story corp training kit that Ujamaa and other community organizations can use to continue conducting oral histories for the project after the initial funding expires. HGP intends to continue its work in other regions of the country and to support collection and archiving of oral histories on this topic for years to come.

The gathering featured the first public presentation of the archive of the Heirloom Gardens Project housed at Spelman College and operated by the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library. The first batch of free, open access oral history interviews is available here. The CERI event brought several members of Ujamaa to campus, along with Carla J. Thomas McGinnis, Assistant Director of Council Operations and Museum Initiatives National Museum of African American History and Culture and Eric Calhoun, Supervisory Horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens. Princeton Professors Hanna Garth (Anthropology) and Tessa Desmond (SPIA) are working with Thomas McGinnis and Calhoun to envision a multimodal experience featuring the Heirloom Gardens Project stories at the Smithsonian. The event included breakout sessions to brainstorm and plan the best ways to publicize and highlight the archive. 

Cultural Anthropologist and Professor Emerita at the University of Georgia, Virginia Nazarea, spoke of her long career collecting oral histories among diverse groups of seed savers. Mama Ira Wallace, known as the Godmother of Southern Seeds, rounded out the day with a keynote featuring her lifelong work collecting seeds and their stories. Both Nazarea and Wallace praised the Heirloom Gardens Project for centering the importance of seed stories and recognizing the essential role of oral history in ethnobotany, biodiversity, and conservation work. Many attendees expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Princeton’s support of community engaged work.

Special thanks to the Department of Anthropology for their coverage of the event.