Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 2

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer-fall of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences from the road.

 

By Jordan Katcher

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I’m focusing my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors. This summer, I’m traveling across the country, and conducting site visits with Conservation Corps that have implemented/are implementing single identity-based initiatives for underrepresented populations within the Conservation world. To read more about my research project, and to read about my upper Midwest site visits, check out my first blog post here.

For my second trip, I ventured through the Northeast region to conduct site visits with Maine Conservation Corps and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Below is a brief snapshot of my visits:

 

Visits in the Northeast:

Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visits – Augusta, Maine

Since I was taking a personal trip to Maine, I decided to visit Maine Conservation Corps to learn more about their opportunities for veterans. While MCC doesn’t currently have a single identity-based crew, I was interested to learn about their philosophy on an integrated model. For MCC, they believe that having diverse teams brings about new exposures, perspectives, and learning experiences for all members involved.

Throughout my visits, a reoccurring topic is the distinction and purpose behind both single identity-based crews and integrated crews: what are the benefits of either, and how do you choose which crew to implement? On top of that, individuals inhabit multiple identities at a time – all of which are on a spectrum – so how do you create program models that are inclusive of those multiple identities within a single crew?

For MCC, they’ve been working on ways to meet the mandate from AmeriCorps to provide opportunities for veterans to serve with Conservation Corps. Previously, MCC operated their Veteran Community Leader program, in which veterans came together for 11 weeks of training, and were then assigned to single-placement positions with a host site. After funding fell through, they transitioned to an integrated model with veterans serving with non-veterans on conservation crews.

MCC struggles with recruiting veterans. In part, this is because, while Maine has a higher veteran population, most of the state’s veterans are older. Additionally, MCC does not provide higher stipends for veterans. Because veterans serve on the same crew as non-veterans, it is difficult to justify paying them more for the same amount of work as their fellow crew members. However, MCC has found that they have a lot of success in recruitment when they have a veteran coordinator; someone who served in the military can better connect with potential applicants.

Resources that MCC would find useful to their organization include: (1) strategies they can implement to ensure that veterans who commit to serving actually begin their service, and (2) information about different program models, including best outcomes and funding resources.

 

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) Site Visits – Richmond, Vermont

Previously, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps had a crew for blind and visually impaired members. Recently, after a few serendipitous encounters with The Forest Service, Corps That, and the Lexington School & Center for the Deaf in New York, VYCC’s goal to provide opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing members came to fruition. They launched their first crew last summer using an integrated model; their crew included both Deaf and hearing members. In the future, they’d love to see multiple American Sign Language (ASL) crews for different age groups, as well as provide both single identity-based and integrated crews.

Last summer, they had two crew leaders: one was Deaf and the other was hearing, and both leaders signed. This seemed like the ideal arrangement for their integrated model. This year, they were unable to recruit a Deaf crew leader, which became a struggle for this year’s crews. VYCC is constantly evaluating and redefining their program models and resources on a seasonal basis, and presently, they implement both Silent Meals and Silent Days, where all crew members can only communicate through ASL. This not only creates a more inclusive environment for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, but it also challenges hearing members and in turn, provides for new growth opportunities in how they communicate with one another.

For VYCC, they really want to invest in Deaf-specific education curriculum, not only for their crew members, but also for their entire organization. They do provide a workshop led by a Deaf instructor that teaches about Deaf culture, which has been a great asset to their crews.

What VYCC has found is that in terms of recruitment, making meaningful connections and relationships with Deaf schools, programs, and organizations is key. They originally cast a broad net for applicants, but they’ve realized when they put more filters on crew member positions, a smaller population arises that really wants the positions. For them, targeted outreach has been a challenge.

Funding is really at the heart of whether they can increase their resources or not; if they had the funds, VYCC would absolutely hire a Deaf/ASL-fluent field supervisor, which would increase their amount of applicants and strengthen their programming. Their partnership with The Forest Service provides traditional fee for service dollars, but not for developing curriculum, which is something they’d really like to invest in for the future.

If VYCC could change one thing from when they first implemented these ASL opportunities, they would have been more proactive about creating an inclusive workshop focused on Deaf culture for everyone, including their board members, their employees, and their crew leaders/members.

VYCC critically evaluates their opportunities for crew members and the intended outcomes of these experiences. For VYCC, the end goal is to not only empower crew members within their own identity group, but to help them know their identity within a larger, diversified setting.

Resources that would be beneficial to VYCC include: (1) funding resources for both Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, (2) greater opportunities for hearing students to strengthen their ASL skills for future employment as interpreters, and (3) increased sharing of resources related to developing new crews. 
 


Stay tuned for the last leg of my road trip adventures in September, where I’ll be venturing through the Southwest region! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions related to my research, always feel free to reach me at jkatcher@uoregon.edu. Thank you for reading!