The Office of Community Engagement just concluded our “Year of Transformation” focused on discerning how we want to evolve our approach to partnerships, relationships, and our work as a whole. Transformation can come in big ways (more to be announced soon!), but it can also unfold in smaller forms. As we begin to unveil the newest version of our office and efforts, one smaller element that is changing is the weekly community engagement newsletter I compose. Amidst developing its new format, I wanted to look back on some of the former listserv* eras and what they represent.
2004-2008 Before Me!
The listserv of what was then called The Office of Student Volunteer Services started in 2004. Using the university’s listserv tool, staff sent a weekly email with a running list of opportunities to tutor, help a resident clear their yard, attend the volunteer fair, etc.
It looked something like this:
2009-2011 The AmeriCorps Years
As the inaugural AmeriCorps in the office, Allison Anoll built on the existing list structure by adding an opening message to each email and organizing the opportunities into categories with a table of contents.
2011-2012 Was I Ready For It?
Allison’s format was my frame of reference when I began my AmeriCorps year and took on responsibility for the listserv. I continued the tradition of of opening messages, often infusing my own musings on the week, hyperlinks to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, and references to the undergraduate life I had just left. I eagerly shared what I was learning about Williamsburg from my new AmeriCorps anti-poverty perspective with added statistics and links about the community.
2012-2017 It’s me. Hi. I’m the listserv. It’s me.
For the next five years, I sent weekly messages with opening reflections on humility, fear, purpose, song lyrics, changing seasons, and more. Most opening statements ended with a question for the reader which no one ever replied to.
However, I did get a lot of replies that read like this:
“I would like to be removed from this list-serve”
“I graduated from W&M- can you remove me from this listserv, please. Thanks!”
“PLEASE TAKE ME OFF YOUR LISTSERV. I am an old alumni and can no longer sign into my W&M email account. PLEASE!”
But these responses came as well:
“It’s the best time of the year!! The 1st Community Engagement email of the year :P”
“As long as you write these emails, I shall never unsubscribe from this listserv!”
“I just wanted to know that I enjoy getting these emails from you and all the useful information you include!”
“Bravo, Elizabeth!! I read your entire opening statement and thoroughly enjoyed it — most excellent food for thought.”
“Love the J.Biebs! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.”
And my all time favorite reply remains
It wasn’t uncommon for me to introduce myself at events as Elizabeth from OCE, the one who sends the email. I even had a student come up and ask if I really was listserv Elizabeth. Each week I used the listserv to put my voice and reflection into thousands of inboxes. In small and large ways that helped me build relationships and find my voice as an active citizen.
Of course, the listserv wasn’t just about me. Alumni and colleagues wrote some of the opening messages, and the listserv occasionally featured advice from students. The vast majority of content remained the many opportunities included each week: OCE sponsored programs, campus issue education events, volunteer needs from community organizations, non-profit jobs, and more.
The visual identity of the listserv also evolved. Our office became The Office of Community Engagement, and we featured a a few logos over the years. I even learned how to send an email directly from the Word doc in which the listserv was formatted.
2017-2019 Speak (Less) Now
By 2017, I started to write fewer opening messages in the listserv, even sharing an opening reflection about just that.
Hello Again. You may have noticed I have had less to say for a while, and that’s mainly because I have been putting even more of my attention toward listening. I find that listening, particularly deeply and to many different voices, takes a lot of energy. And as I have submersed myself in listening, it has become more difficult to find my own voice. I have missed sharing my thoughts with y’all, but I also have found great value in my time of quietness. Do you ever struggle with the balance between listening and speaking as you participate in your communities? Is there a time when listening deeply has had an effect on you? –Elizabeth Feb 2017
But I also added a new highlight: a student recognized as Active Citizen of the Week. It was awesome to see how excited students were to be in the spotlight and how much their peers would celebrate the recognition as well. While earlier iterations of the listserv had functioned to build a relationship between the campus and me, the listserv was now increasingly building and affirming relationships among others.
2019 — Style
Ten years of technology advancements and recognizing the importance of the listserv as a representation of our office, 2019 marked a big transition from those email forwarded Word documents to an actual newsletter software. This let me put more focus on the visual design of the listserv, adding images to each opportunity and hyperlinked buttons to learn more or sign up. With our fancy new system, I saw how many people actually opened the messages and which buttons readers clicked for more information.
And I now know that in the last four years my weekly commitment of sending out our community engagement listserv led to more than 10,000 clicks. In some ways, a click is just that. But it’s also an action. It’s a desire to know more, a decision to engage, a connection to others working together toward a more just and sustainable world.
This summer the listserv will get another leveling up and we’ll enter the next era. Who knows what it will hold, but I am glad to help it unfold.
*One of the things that will be changing is referring to the weekly message as a newsletter rather than a listserv since that’s way more accessible and modern language!