Bianca Baldridge is and will always be a youth worker.
And in addition, a community-based educator.
An assistant professor in the School of Education, Baldridge teaches in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Baldridge was selected as a recipient of a 2019 Distinguished Teaching Award and is the inaugural recipient of the Excellence in Community-based Learning award.
While the award recognizes the recipients as the “university’s finest educators,” Baldridge sees it as a tipping point to validate the importance of Community-based Learning (CBL) and Teaching (CBT).
“It’s really important to validate and legitimize this kind of teaching in many ways and to have an award that explicitly says that Community-based Learning and Community-based Teaching is valued and necessary is special,” Baldridge says.
As a student herself, Baldridge realized that community-based programs taught more to students than traditional classrooms. She also learned that schools – because of their deliberate exclusion of Black, Latinx and Native communities – can hinder learning and often engenders deep suffering and harm.
As she argues in her research and through her CBL courses, community-based programs have served as respite from racism in schools and in larger society, and can offer opportunities for sociopolitical development for youth of color.
Baldridge credits her undergrad years at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was able to expand upon her work on exploring the importance of community organizations and after-school programs.
“I knew that I couldn’t study these spaces without exploring issues of race, class, politics and capitalism,” Baldridge says. “I knew that the study of these spaces were important and that they were valuable but they couldn’t be disconnected from the social and political context of education.”
Her studies would include looking at the trends of educational policy, particularly those connected to neo-liberalism, school privatization and how race affects after-school education and community-based youth work.
Community-Engaged Scholarship at UW-Madison
When the Morgridge Center for Public Service launched its first ever CBL Course Development Grant in the fall of 2013, Baldridge jumped at the opportunity. Awarded the grant, she used the funds to support her CBL course, Rethinking After School Education (EPS500), which she taught in the spring of 2014.
In the course, students went to community organizations such as the Goodman Community Center, Urban League of Greater Madison, Schools of Hope and Red Caboose to better understand how these programs can meet important needs of youth and communities.
She engaged students in lectures and discussions related to race and poverty and field journals, where they wrote reflections of their experiences while at their specific community organization.
Throughout her undergraduate courses and graduate seminars, Baldridge tries to disrupt the boundaries of campus, by inviting community-based leaders, youth workers, community activists and organizers to hold space in her classrooms and on campus.
The Savior/Messiah Complex
An important message that Baldridge delivers to her students is that any young child should never feel that there is something inherently wrong with them.
The second you say that you want to help “at-risk youth,” Baldridge says that you are instilling in them the belief that something is wrong with them.
“The biggest thing is that you’re nobody’s savior,” Baldridge says. “It was really getting them to burn their superhero capes and recognize that those desires are rooted in whiteness and white supremacy.”
Students oftentimes don’t see that they’ve been conditioned to devalue communities of color and that can play a huge factor in how they interact with them.
Baldridge says that anyone can enter communities with a savior mentality, and in order for them to think that, they have to feel that they’re superior. That’s where students have to take a step back and critically reflect on how to disrupt the logic that anyone needs to be saved.
“Getting students to be critically reflective about who they are in the world is really important,” Baldridge says. “One of the important things about CBL courses is that you want to get people to be critically reflective about the work they do.”
While Baldridge supports CBL courses, it also makes her uneasy. It’s so easy to reproduce harm and suffering through these courses which is why it’s important to “establish genuine reciprocal relationships” and ensure that students are prepared to engage with communities.
“You have to establish relationships and that’s a lot of work,” Baldridge says. “It’s not just about developing a syllabus and teaching it but going out there to develop relationships with community partners and finding what their strengths, priorities and needs are.”
Over the course of six years, Baldridge has taught two CBL courses and is currently teaching Education Policy 210: Youth, Education, and Society. At the graduate level, Baldridge offers a seminar, Education Policy 810: Education and Resistance in Community-based Spaces, where community-based leaders, youth workers, and high school youth regularly engage with students in the course.
Baldridge has also engaged and collaborated with many community organizations in Madison to learn about their priorities and programming.
She hopes that her work with organizations in Madison leads to more support and recognition for the work they do for young people. Baldridge adds that while the recognition is humbling, she doesn’t do this work alone; there are many community-based leaders and youth workers who really deserve the recognition.
And while the work may be tiring, Baldridge hopes that all the work that she does can impact and disrupt people’s ideology about minoritized communities and youth.