January 22, 2019

Leslie Martin: High-Speed Connection

UMW Associate Professor of Sociology Leslie Martin is committed to strengthening the relationships between the campus and local communities. And she has the energy to do it!

Professor of Sociology Leslie Martin is director of the new Center for Community Engagement. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW Professor of Sociology Leslie Martin is director of UMW’s new Center for Community Engagement. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Dashing between Monroe as chair of the sociology department and the UC as director of the new Center for Community Engagement, Martin is a whirlwind.

Sometimes, she’s teaching the First Year Seminar “No Place Like Home: Housing and Society,” which delves into the dynamics of communities and inequalities that affect housing choices. Sometimes, she’s helping UMW’s COAR with its annual gift box drive that wrapped up last month.

Sometimes, she’s sitting in meetings to get a feel for community engagement already happening on campus. Sometimes, she’s riding down the Rappahannock River, helping to replenish the local oyster population.

Martin has lived in Philadelphia, Richmond and now, of course, Fredericksburg. But ever since she was a graduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, she said, she’s hoped to work in an office like the CCE.

Q: What sort of work does the CCE do in the Fredericksburg community?
A: It’s not so much what CCE is doing in the community but more that CCE is trying to be the infrastructure to support everybody else who’s doing stuff in the community.

Q: What community organizations are special to you?
A: I love them all; I can’t choose a favorite child! Since I’ve been at Mary Washington I’ve been involved in issues around homelessness. I’m currently on the board of the Fredericksburg Regional Continuum of Care, the coalition of homeless service organizations. That’s very close to my heart.

Q: When did you first realize the value of community engagement?
A: When I was in high school, I started volunteering at the Richmond Peace Education Center. I think I just did clerical work, but it felt really good to get out of my normal habit of doing things that seemed to be about me. I felt like I was part of something larger.

Q: How does being engaged with the community makes you feel, in one word?
A: Can you tell I don’t ever use just one word? I’m not sure we should do the work necessarily because of how it makes us feel. That keeps the focus on us rather than on the work in the community. Connected! That’s the word.

Q: What are your long-term goals for the CCE?
A: President Paino signed a pledge saying that we would create a civic action plan to commit ourselves to creating measurable change in our community. Isn’t that awesome? When I think about that I feel goosebumps. I want to do that! I want us to not just make efforts but to make an impact. It’s going to take a little time to get there, but by next January I want us to have a plan in place: Here is a thing that has been identified by our community as important, and here’s how UMW is going to work on moving the needle.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: A quote by Lilla Watson, an aboriginal political activist and artist: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” It’s this idea of pointing out the difference between helping and working together.