Center for Community-Invested Research, Collaboration, & Learning

CIRCL first met on March 31, 2020 for an “Envisioning Meeting.” We weren’t called CIRCL yet. Only two weeks after the U. S. shutdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic, about twenty UB faculty, 2 graduate students, and 2 community members gathered together on Zoom in the hopes of meaningfully connecting. Everyone in the group shared interests in education, learning, and equity, but there was so much about each other and this new virtual format that we didn’t know. Add to that uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic, no childcare or schooling for those of us with children, and no timetable. Where would this lead?

Using Strengths-Based Approaches

We spent time in April getting to know each other. We began to think ahead and to talk about equity as needing to be reflected in every element of our work together. On April 28, 2020, we discussed how the pandemic was already changing education and had highlighted long-standing inequities especially related to internet access. We discussed theories by scholars of color–namely Afrofuturism and Black Feminist Pedagogies–that directly address students of color seeing themselves in and working actively to create the future. As a group, we recognized that the shift to seeing the strength in all people is a fundamental part of equity and was an essential aspect of not replicating existing oppressive structures and barriers. The idea of CIRCL Partnerships–yet unnamed–was born… 

Noticing and Changing Systems

In May, we responded to a prompt asking about our hopes for what CIRCL could become: trusted… genuine friendships… community… application… inclusive… interdependent… service. We started to articulate our values through this exercise. In June, the Floyd Rebellions began. We changed our meeting agenda. We listened to Bob Marley’s War. We broke into small discussion groups to face the concepts of racism and dehumanization. We took an anonymous survey after these discussion groups and read each other’s reflections. Trust between individuals and across the group grew as we navigated grief, frustration, fear, uncertainty, awakening, and hope together… 

Committing to Symmetrical Partnerships

On June 30, we had a community-defining conversation about our center name. We agreed that the symbolism of a circle reflected many of our values: symmetry, equal standing, support, and community. We started brainstorming word combinations that could spell this concept that did such a good job of representing what we cared about. After another anonymous survey and a public vote, we became CIRCL on July 14, 2020. 

Engaging in Co-Equal Conversations

At the end of summer and start of fall 2020, we launched the CIRCL Partnerships program. We sought out PhD students who were at the right time in their Curriculum, Instruction, and Science of Learning program to begin a supported research collaboration with one of three equity organization partners. We started writing grants together and workshopping proposal ideas. Work on our logo and website began. 

Participating With and Learning From Each Other

One year after CIRCL members began meeting, we almost doubled our email list. The number of students connected to CIRCL grew from 2 to 6. Our membership now includes faculty from all four Graduate School of Education (GSE) departments as well as one beyond the Graduate School of Education (Engineering Education), and the entire group continues to benefit from the skills and perspectives held by each member… 

Communicating Clearly

CIRCL is very proud of our students. Qinghua Chen wrote, filmed, and produced a short film in response to Anti-Asian violence called “Your Bias Hurts Me”. Dave Mawer designed the incredible CIRCL logo and website. Mandy Seccia won second place in the UB-wide 3-minute thesis competition. These are all examples of communicating clearly, a practice we at CIRCL believe is fundamental to community-invested partnerships of any kind.