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Fresno State program aims to bring voices of marginalized communities into research, policymaking

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Fresno State faculty members are launching a new program to incorporate the voices of marginalized community members into policymaking in the city of Fresno. 

The Center for Community Voices aims to show Fresno residents that their perspective is an important part of policy decisions, according to Amber Crowell, an assistant professor in sociology at Fresno State and co-director of the program.

“Really, there's knowledge and wisdom all around us in our communities,” she says, “through lived experiences, through being directly impacted by issues.” 

Crowell says policy is typically informed by academic research and policymakers with past experiences. She says the center will help change that.

“It's automatically assumed that their knowledge is more valuable or superior,” she says. “And so we're trying to change the way we think about whose knowledge matters, whose experiences and wisdom matters.”

The center’s first project is partnering with the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce as they launch a Guaranteed Basic Income program. She says the center will provide an opportunity for the program’s participants to document their experience living in poverty; and then, after receiving the $500 monthly payments. 

“They also will be with us as we are making decisions about the research process,” she says. “They will be alongside us as we are deciding how to evaluate the success of the program, and to get input on what's working and what's not.”

Fresno State will host the Center for Community Voices at least for its first year. Faith in the Valley Senior Advisor Andy Levine is the co-director. He says the inspiration for this program comes in part from his late father Dr. Robert Levine, a psychology professor at Fresno State.  Levine says his father built bridges between academia and community. He says the center will take a similar approach. 

“Especially our most directly impacted communities,” he says. “They already hold a whole host of wisdom, but specifically, they have the best understanding of both what the current realities are, and what could be done to actually address them.” 

He says students will also participate in the program.

“Not just kind of reading about it, but actually going into the community and canvassing, talking to folks directly, writing up reports and doing their own kind of data research,” he says.  

Lety Valencia, the formations director at Faith in the Valley, says she thinks the center will inspire other institutions across the Central Valley to invest in community voices.  

“Really lifting up the value of communities being at the center of policy decisions and the stories coming from the people who are actually impacted by the realities,” she says. 

Crowell says they are crowdfunding for the center through Fresno State to support community listening sessions, students, and residents who participate in the program. 

 

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