A small group of Virginia Tech graduate students wanted to start an open conversation about democratic issues and examine the struggles and improvements of society.

Two years ago, these five scholars created Community Change, an online peer-reviewed Virginia Tech Graduate School journal to discuss these topics and share different points of view.

“We talk about everything from organizational change to governmental change,” said D’Elia Chandler, who is assistant director of government relations at Virginia Tech and one of the journal’s five editorial board members. “We have had articles spanning from food security to metro systems in D.C. It [Community Change] really is broad and portrays a lot of people grappling with how change happens, how to ensure that it stays democratic, seeing where we are in the world and some of the positives and negatives, and working through that in an academic way.”

One of the journal’s purposes is to allow graduate students to learn about the academic publication and peer review process. Graduate students from all disciplines and from other universities, not only Virginia Tech, can submit articles for review and potential publication. Community Change is published annually.

The journal, which is set to publish again this spring, covers democratic issues, including public policy, collective action, and physical or social infrastructure. The articles examine change at different levels of society and explore multiple approaches to development.

Each issue features scholarly articles, book reviews, and essays, as well as multimedia and artwork. There also are shorter pieces covering guest speaker lectures, interviews, and roundtable discussions.

Community Change replaced Public Knowledge, a former Graduate School journal, when Max Stephenson, advisor of the journal and professor of public and international affairs, suggested the new publication to students in 2015. This new journal focuses on topics inside the Institute for Policy and Governance at Virginia Tech, which is housed in the School of Public and International Affairs, and democratic community development.

The journal is published by VT Publishing, based in University Libraries.  It hosts the journal on its open-access web platform. 

“I saw it as a special opportunity for graduate students to become deeply familiar with their field of interest and to see how it is manifest across disciplinary focus while also permitting them an opportunity to understand how peer review constitutes a vital pillar of academic research,” said Stephenson. “They also gain experience in organizing to lead and manage a complex enterprise against deadlines.”

The journal is part of the Community Change Collaborative, formerly Community Voices, an interdisciplinary group of Virginia Tech graduate students, faculty and community representatives. The collaborative hosts the Community Voices series of speakers to discuss democratic issues and community development.

A five-member editorial board directs the journal. The editors work closely with writers to develop their analysis, decide on a theme for the next issue, and conduct interviews. The board uses a blind-editing process, meaning reviewers do not know the articles’ authors.

“My experience with this publication has been fantastic,” said Mary Ryan, an editorial board member and a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought at Virginia Tech. “I have learned a lot about how to publish an academic, peer-reviewed journal and different website hosting platforms. I have worked with an excellent group of graduate students from a variety of disciplines who share a common interest in advancing democratic and community reforms.”

Ryan, who is co-editor in chief, said her experience reviewing articles has made her a better instructor and editor for future journals.

Jake Keyel is co-editor in chief. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the planning, governance, and globalization program in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA).

“I would love for Community Change to be perceived within SPIA and beyond as both a space for interesting, high-quality, original research and a venue for graduate students and young scholars to submit their work, learn about the publishing process, and improve their writing skills,” said Keyel. “It's for these same reasons I would want people to read the journal.”

Graduate student editors hope that Community Change will create a conversation on campus about democratic issues, gain more interest within the community, and be a source for the public. Readers are encouraged to comment on articles.

“I hope that Community Change can be a space to tackle the myriad of individual and collective struggles facing the country and world,” Ryan said.

Written by Haley Cummings

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