Photo: Michelle LaFrance Courtesy of SWDCCC

By the SWDCCC Community Engagement and Communications Committee

The Southwest DC Community Center (SWDCCC) that is planned to open in our neighborhood in the next few years will serve as a vibrant, central hub for the Southwest and Capitol Riverfront communities that provides an inclusive space for a wide range of services and activities that foster personal and collective growth. As a way to get to know your neighbors who are volunteering their time to bring the SWDCCC to life, we present the Meet the Team series. These profiles will highlight each member of the SWDCCC Board of Directors and Community Engagement and Communications Committee. Don’t be shy, when you see us around the neighborhood, say hi!

Name: Michelle LaFrance

Please tell us about your background: After years in family and adult behavioral health services and then health sciences administration and nonprofit management, I returned to graduate school to pursue a teaching career in higher education. I had always been active in community arts and community writing contexts (poetry readings, chap book production, indie arts organizations, and arts-forward community literacy initiatives), so it was a natural trajectory to find myself working in and studying community language use (particularly endangered languages) and extracurricular contexts. As several theorists have argued, institutions tend to perpetuate the problems they were created to solve, and as James Baldwin once recognized, “racism is like car dealerships. Every year a new model.” Study in sociolinguistics, multiliteracies, and histories of schooling showed me that the realities of privilege and racial formation had shaped my own education as much as they had inexorably shaped the larger national and local landscapes of schooling for others.

I hold a Ph.D. in English/writing studies from the University of Washington, where I focused on writing across the curriculum, writing center, and “bridge” pedagogies, including basic writing/community literacy and the public humanities/community engagement. All of this was underwritten by extensive coursework in cultural rhetoric, feminist theory, and social construction theories (particularly race, class, and gender), which provided the frame through which I wrote my first academic monograph about the ways academic institutions shape what we do and how we do it. I am primarily known as a methodologist—an ethnographer, to be exact, which is a type of community-engaged researcher. My work seeks to make the invisible disjunctions of lived experience visible, so that practitioners and leaders might be more mindful of the experiences of others, particularly the marginalized.

In the past few years, I have been able to return to my passion for work with other writers (and in a 21st century context, we all are writers, regardless of whether we identify as such) via workshops in creative nonfiction, writing for nonprofits, life and family history writing, and other volunteer activities.

How are you involved with the SWDCCC?: I joined the board in January of 2021. I also chair the Community Engagement and Communications Committee. In this capacity, I have been organizing the Friday and Farmer’s Market booths this summer. I am also organizing “Imagining the Center,” an arts-forward community-engagement and fundraising event with other local stakeholders (such as the SWBID). This event will broker conversations about issues that impact the lives of Southwest residents. Our goal is to think in new ways as we are led by visionary facilitators and performers.

Why did you become involved with the SWDCCC?: I first heard about the center through conversations with neighbors and then replied to an ad in The Southwester seeking volunteers.

What do you hope the SWDCCC will offer to the community?: I’d love to see a series of lower cost classes in the arts and a thriving showcase of neighborhood artists, writers, and makers.

What’s your favorite part of our neighborhood?: I love the Friday and Farmer’s Market gathering spaces—I love both seeing neighbors and meeting new people!

To learn more about the SWDCCC please see our website at https://www.swdccc.org/ and if you’re interested in getting involved, please submit your information at https://www.swdccc.org/volunteer-form.

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