Engaged Scholars: Elena Foulis

Photo of Elena Foulis (left) with a guest recording a podcast.

Engaged Scholars: Elena Foulis

November 2020

Engaged Scholars is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching. Note: the above photo is from a recording session for Dr. Foulis's (on left) podcast in 2017.

Elena Foulis
Associated faculty
College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

My community-engaged scholarship centers on the collaborative work between me as faculty, students, and community. It informs my pedagogy, research, and service, and is part of my professional identity as a community-engaged scholar. My work aligns with the land-grant university's mandate to serve society, increase higher education accessibility, and reach all people. My scholarship draws from pressing social issues in Latina/o/x communities and it is informed by creating reciprocal and respectful relationships with individuals, and the local community. It seeks to address and learn from society's pressing issues such as immigration, language access, and representation in Latina/o/x communities, inside and outside the university. I do this through various public-facing projects such as oral history, open-educational resources, service-learning, performance, and podcasting.

Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?

The community has so much wisdom, experience, and practical application of the work we are learning the in classroom, so, to me, it makes sense that we come together to learn from them. In my case, I work with the Latina/o/x community in Columbus, although my students learn about the historical presence of the Latina/o/x community in all of Ohio. At least 95 percent of my students are White or non-Latina/o/x. Engaging with and learning from the community pushes for the transformation of thought and the breakdown of binary and simplistic views of communities different than us. While we prepare the way in the classroom via readings, discussions, and reflective essays, when we start working alongside the Latina/o/x community, students develop a sense of community interconnectedness, which rarely happens without real contact. Students are learning to acknowledge each other, they are learning to learn in each other's presence, and are willing to come together to be knowledge producers, not merely consumers. This is key: when we come together, we produce knowledge.

What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?

I started teaching a service-learning course in 2010 and saw the value of learning from the community, in partnership. I quickly realized how much value our community partners brought to our class discussion and readings. Since then, I have developed sustained and reciprocal relationships with about 10 partners, including the Columbus Public Schools, Mt. Carmel Hospital, OCHLA, Proyecto Mariposas, Rising Youth, Vineyard Community Center, Dominican Learning Center, the James, and many others.

How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?

So far, I have published five articles that center on service-learning, community partnerships and performance. As a result of this work, I have received university grants and one national grant, and my work has been formally recognized with an award from the office of Outreach and Engagement. I have been able to produce two open-access books, an oral history project and a podcast that not only documents the Latina/o/x life in Ohio, it also amplifies the work Latina/o/x s are doing in our community. All of this work is public facing, and all have been done in collaboration with the community and students.

What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?

I always (even after so many years) feel surprised, thankful that students feel safe enough in the classroom and with me to be vulnerable about what they are learning about themselves through my service-learning course. I am mindful not to ask students to take risks I am not willing to take, and agree with bell hooks in that "Professors who expect students to share confessional narratives but who are themselves unwilling to share are exercising power in a manner that could be coercive." Indeed, I am vulnerable with my students about the things I am learning, even within the last few years or even the semester before! hooks says that, "When professors bring narratives of their experiences into classroom discussions it eliminates the possibility that we can function as all-knowing, silent interrogators. It is often productive if professors take the first risk, linking confessional narratives to academic discussions so as to show how experience can illuminate and enhance our understanding of academic material."

I also feel extremely honored and privileged to be able to read about their personal growth and how they grapple with injustices they see and their own privilege (especially those students who are white). A student I had a year ago writes about thinking often about our class discussions and readings when she's working with Latina/o/x children in the schools and identifying inequities more easily, which is both eye opening and frustrating (which is, I believe, the birth of an advocate or someone that will push for social justice when the opportunity comes). She also writes about her own biases and sometimes limited race consciousness as it relates to the experiences of minoritized people. It makes me proud that students like her are willing to learn and immerse themselves to things that can help them dismantle stereotypes and identify the unconscious biases we all carry.

What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?

Participate in the Engagement Scholarship Consortium! In particular, the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop. I was a part of this workshop in 2016 and have been a part of the mentoring and planning team since then. I remember attending this conference in 2015 for the first time and I felt that this is the work that I was already doing and that I could find a way to disseminate the work, dialogue and learn from other community engaged scholars! But also, talk to people at your institution that are doing this type of work. Also, plan to spend time in the community and learn about the initiatives and opportunities that exists and make a serious and honest commitment to get involved, even before you plan a class or research project.

Sample Engaged Scholarship

Alex, S., & Foulis, E. (2020). Be the Street: The Performative and Transformative Possibilities of Oral History. US Latina & Latino Oral History Journal 4, 45-66

Foulis, E., & Martinez, G. (2020). "Constructing La Villa Hispana: Language policy, Economic development, and Cultural Citizenship in Northeast Ohio." Spanish Across Domains in the United States: Education, Public Space, and Social Media. Brill.

Foulis, E., & Barajas, J. (2019). Weaving our Histories: Latin@ Ethnography in the Heritage Language Classroom. Journal of Folklore and Education, 6.

Foulis, E., & Martinez, G. (2019). Living into Immigrant Communities through Hospitality Practice: A Christian Ethical Approach to Community Service Learning. Journal of Christianity and World Languages.

Foulis, E. (2018). Participatory Pedagogy: Oral History in the Service-Learning Classroom. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 22(3), 119-134.

Dr. Foulis received Ohio State's 2020 Community Engaged Scholar Award.

View Dr. Elena Foulis's faculty page View the Ohio Habla podcast page