Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Sandra L. Pensoneau-Conway

Second Advisor

Pradeep Sopory


This dissertation explores the role of critical service-learning from the perspective of urban community members. Specifically, it examines the counternarratives produced by Black women community gardeners who engage in academic service-learning with postsecondary faculty. The study focuses on this particular group because of the women's deep involvement with grassroots organizing that reflects their sense of self and other community members, as well as their personal and political relationships to Detroit, Michigan. Given the city's economic disparities rooted in racial segregation, structural violence and gender oppression, Detroit is a site of critical learning within a postindustrial/postcolonial context. This intersectionalist approach to service-learning is likened to bell hooks's concept of homeplace, a site of resistance created by Black women for the purposes of conducting anti-oppression work. Integrating community member interviews and the author's autoethnographic account to dialogically co-construct meaning, the study employs the womanist epistemological tenet of multivocality through connections to place, community, and activist praxis. Presenting Black female cultural expressions and life stories illustrated in the data, the study identifies holistic community-campus partnerships as those that emphasize environmental insight, cultural representation, reflexive relationships, and collective action .The dissertation has strong implications in service-learning research and practice, advancing an ethos of responsibility that provides a space for unheard voices to speak and for relationships among community members and academics to reflect a model based on solidarity as opposed to traditional paradigms centered on charity.