Community Voices is an interdisciplinary graduate student-managed discussion and speaker series that connects community leaders, innovators, and social entrepreneurs with Virginia Tech students and faculty members. It gives students a hands-on perspective and real-time window into the most current social, political and economic challenges and movements of our time.

The series brings in community change leaders to share their perspectives. The core focus of Community Voices is the perennial topic of community change and the fundamental question of what kinds of leadership it takes to enact that level of change. The specific idea of how leadership can transform communities has been of primary focus for the group.

That central focus provides a wealth of topics and numerous lenses through which Community Voices has been able to explore the topic of change leadership. The lens through which Community Voices has looked at this kind of innovative change have spanned policy domains. For instance, the group is currently focused on looking at it through the lens of agriculture, but has previously explored it through the perspective of the arts and technology to name a few.

Exploring Change Leadership in Agriculture

“We are looking at food systems and alternative food systems for those folks caught in the neoliberal agricultural food system internationally and finding themselves in difficult straits economically,” said Max Stephenson, Director of the Institute of Policy and Governance (IPG) and co-founder of Community Voices.

Flaccavento and students
From Left to Right: Anna Erwin, Anthony Flaccavento, Pallavi Raonka. Photo courtesy of Andy Morikawa.

The group’s most recent speaker was Anthony Flaccavento, a sustainable community pioneer, organic farmer, and food systems innovator. Flaccavento discussed his recent book Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change and shared his philosophy for the six essential transitions he believes our nation needs to establish in order to create a healthier, more just and sustainable economy and food system. He also shared his experiences having helped found the Abingdon Farmers Market and the Appalachian Harvest Food Hub.

Flaccavento engaged in a dialogue with participants on the process of community change and leadership.

Having students from different backgrounds around the same table with these leaders really opens up a true interdisciplinary dialogue around the table, said Stephenson.

Community Voices goes beyond offering a place for intellectual discussion and helps build crucial relationships between students and community leaders. “The relationship has not been just of the university coming in and acting as a spectator of what’s going on in the community but actually becoming actively involved through the graduate student body that sits around the table,” said Andy Morikawa, Senior Fellow for IPG and co-founder of Community Voices.

“Over the course of the past five or six years, the series has really become a vital portal and we have developed a really intimate relationship between the community and the university,” Morikawa added.

Upcoming Events

February: The next installment will feature two speakers:
a national leader in community gardening and,
a Virginia Tech faculty member in the College of Agriculture who ran a USDA regional food shed project on alternative agriculture and local food economies.
Both with discuss community gardens as a part of local food systems. They will specifically look at the social capital dimensions of community gardens and what they mean for building new identities and new sets of shared purposes for communities hard hit economically.

Later in the spring: The group is in talks with a faith-based community theater organization out of North Carolina that uses theater to teach migrant farm workers about shared purpose.

Looking for More Community Voices?
Check out the Community Voices website for more information on upcoming and past events as well as how to get involved.