Student Spotlight: Shauna Rigaud Receives Dr. Julie Owen Award

Student Spotlight: Shauna Rigaud Receives Dr. Julie Owen Award

Congratulations to CS student Shauna Rigaud for receiving the Dr. Julie Owen Award at the 2019 Seeds for Change Recognition Event hosted by the School of Integrative Studies' SAIL (Social Action & Integrative Learning). The award honors outstanding work of graduate students who are engaged in their community. Severin Mueller conducted a short interview with Shauna in which she reflects on her investment in community work in pedagogy and social activism and its connection to her current research. Read her responses below.

Could you describe to us your work at SAIL?

My official title in the SAIL (Social Action and Integrative Learning) office is Community Based Learning Coordinator. In that role, I work with faculty, students and Community partners on our Community Based Learning Courses. Community Based Learning or CBL is a teaching pedagogy that works to connect students with the community. Any course that requires students to do volunteer hours with a community based organization and connect that service to course material is considered CBL. However it's so much more. CBL is about deepening not only students' learning, but also supporting the work that is happening in the community. Organizations are able to get the volunteers that they need and connect to resources; Students are able to apply their learning in the classroom to real life work and gain mentors; and Faculty have a chance to engage in on-the-ground work, building relationships with the community.

Do you see overlap in your work with SAIL and the academic work done in the CS doctoral program?

My work in the SAIL office on the surface seems very different from my academic work, but I believe that are threads that connect them. I think both in our program and in my work with SAIL, I'm asked to think critically about issues. In my work with SAIL, I'm constantly trying to think about how to better train and support our students, faculty and the larger university so that we can work with communities without doing harm, how we can support communities and the work that they are already doing. That perspective comes from a social justice lens which I think is in line with our general work in our program. In our program, we are asked to think about how different objects, theories and events connect to create a particular moment. This ability to think critically, I think is important to understanding how to approach both my work in SAIL and my own research.

Could you tell us if and how your work at SAIL translates into your current research?

My work in SAIL isn't really aligned with my research on the surface but I do think its adjacent. I'm broadly interested in thinking about how solidarity and ideas of community are created. My work spans examining reality television and black female solidarity to the uses of cultural practices to build ideas of nationhood in the Caribbean. My work in SAIL requires relationship building to address issues that impact the lives of people everyday. I think an understanding of solidarity and community is important to understanding how we tackle social injustices. 

Prior to coming to George Mason, I spent several years working at Simmons University in Boston as the Assistant Director for Service Learning doing similar work to my role here. Thinking about communities has always been important to me. Additionally, I've always been really interested in ideas of "access" and more than whether or not folks can afford college, but how communities, particularly communities of color, working class, and poor communities can access the resources that universities have - spaces, events, libraries. Universities should not be closed and gated communities. They should be accessible. This is also how I see what my research, what my work should be. 

I know you have been involved in community work before joining the CS program. Can you let us in on that and are you still involved with the community / communities in question?

Since I was in high school, I've been organizing and educating my peers and adults. At 14 years old, I became a member of the youth board of Boston Do Something fundraising and then awarding $500 grants to other young people who had ideas to strengthen Boston communities. At 15, a high school sophomore, I became part of the first corps of youth guides at MTOWN, a non-profit that hired high school students to learn about Boston's multicultural, multiethnic and organizing history and delivered walking tours of Boston's South End Neighborhood to students, adults, residents and visitors to the city. At 16, I attended my first protest against a local university to preserve affordable housing in the city. I also trained adults about the importance of young people being in decision making capacities as a youth trainer for Youth on Board. While in college, I became a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, an international historically black sorority which emphasizes community service to women and children.

As an adult, I became a member of the Youth Workers' Alliance and then went on to be a founding member of United Youth and Youth Workers of Boston, advocating and organizing for law reform on criminal background checks for youth offenders, funding for summer youth jobs and equitable funding for youth serving programs.    

Being fairly new to this area, I'm building new relationships and learning about issues in the DMV. I'm active with my sorority and continue to do community service, including organizing an annual college access program in Boston, while living in Virginia. This year, I've also been working with fellow students to create a community of Black graduate students at GMU. Many Black students, even at the graduate level, struggle with navigating the academy, imposter syndrome, and racism. Our core group of organizers understood this need and how important community is to lifting up future Black scholars. I'm extremely proud of and thankful for this core group and the support, laugher and light they have given me during my short time here.