In Fall 2006 Miami University’s Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine inaugurated the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program in collaboration with leaders and organizations of the inner city Cincinnati neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. Twelve students from a variety of majors - mostly white and from midle class suburban and small town backgrounds - integrated academics with a full immersion experience to live and work in the "school of social life" for a full semester.
The Residency Program constitutes a particular model for community engagement that expands the opportunities of community service beyond programs based on charity, vanguardism, and noblesse oblige. The Residency Program exemplifies the Center’s mission to work collaboratively with neighborhood organizations and residents -through courses, research, and service - in order to help formulate strategies and policies consistent with developing a community without displacement.
What do the Students do?
Students take a full load of courses at the Center for Community Engagement. Architecture and Interior Design majors design and build out spaces for low and moderate income residents. Students from other majors work in various neighborhood institutions that serve the under-served, totaling 24-27 hours per week. They worked at the Drop Inn Center, Venice on Vine, Peaslee Neighborhood Center, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, and Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. Teacher education majors work full-time as student teachers at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy.
Who facilitates this?
The residency program is collaboratively taught by university professors and community members. John Blake, architecture professor, leads the design-build studio in which the architecture students participate. Tom Dutton, registered architect and program director, teaches the social history class. Bonnie Neumeier, a long-term resident and administrative member, holds weekly sessions for journal writing and is involved in all aspects of the program. She supervises the service-learning experiences, attends classes, and takes the lead in organizing the students’ engagements in community-based campaigns. Other classes are taught by visiting professors and community members.
Where do the students and faculty live?
Miami University leases out 108 W 14th street, a 19th century townhouse located in the heart of Over-the-Rhine and right next to Music Hall. It can accomodate up to 10 students, while additional students live in the apartment building caddy-corner to the house. A portion of the faculty are community residents in Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati in general, and even more commute every week from Miami's campus in Oxford, Ohio.
Do the students actually become a part of the community?
Effecting nurturing relationships that produce benefits for the students and the community is a primary goal of the Center for Community Engagement and the Residency Program. In the Residency Program, the ethic of serving the community is non-negotiable. The challenge put to the students is, can you see the people and community beyond media stereotypes? And when the students let their guard down, they themselves change. They are changed by the relationships they make with community residents through the engagement and service they provide. Coming to see the ‘other’ through their sustained service and growing empathy is the life-transforming process.
How is this fleshed out in terms of the students' experiences?
The Residency Program is exemplary in that it integrates community engagement and active citizenship. Because the Residency Program spans a full semester it offers a substantial way to build relationships and trust, and thereby resists the notion that communities are mere laboratories for learning on the part of students and teachers. Because students don’t just study a neighborhood but actually become part of it. As a result, students are transformed in powerful and long-lasting ways. Through relationships the students develop with community residents, they come to see their privilege as a barrier that must be overcome in order to open their hearts and minds to the experiences swirling around them. They learn the skills to analyze current reality, welcome complexity, and to engage in productive conversations, all of which are vital to a theory of citizenship that fronts the questions, citizenship for what? Whose interests matter? And what value-laden theories of society do forms of community engagement presuppose?The mission of the Residency Program is not quite captured by characterizations that we are helping to build community, or helping to advance public culture, or even contributing to the public good. The mission certainly encompasses these ends, but the goal is sharper in assisting students and faculty to experience relationships characterized by oppressed and oppressor populations. Coming to understand the dynamics of such relationships opens a window for students and faculty to see how class and racial struggles take specific form in Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati. And through this investigation of the systemic structures that produce oppressor/oppressed relationships, the intent is to act upon those structures and relationships, with the community.
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