[ Update ]
By: Diane Adkins, Jassen Johnson and Janni Sorensen
The three of us (Diane, Jassen and Janni) participated in this year's COPC
conference in Pittsburgh and following is a brief report on the experience,
if you are particularly interested in any of the issues discussed please contact
us and we can provide further information.
Thursday morning was dominated by introductory sessions introducing staff at the OUP etc, followed by a plenary session on past, present and future of the COPC programs. Key issues in this plenary session included the fact that COPC is a fragile program that does not always have a lot of policy support and there is a need for increased funding to continue the good work. Another key issue that would resurface in several sessions later in the conference was a clear tension between the benefit for university versus community partners in the COPC programs.
After lunch we had our first "active session" with an ESLARP presentation by Diane and Jassen in a session titled, "The challenges of partnerships with institutions of higher education: Strategies for community partners." We all chose to participate in the sessions where one of us presented so the others could provide backup information to the presenter. Unfortunately, this meant that we were not able to report any of the outcome of other sessions that might have been of value to the ESLARP community. Diane and Jassen framed this presentation around the work of UP378 in the spring semester of 2001 followed by a discussion of the implementation of programs from the developed planning document during fall outreach weekends. There were many resident partners present in the audience of this session and all were very impressed with the level of involvement that the university had in neighborhood meetings and the fact that so many students did not just come on one visit, but actually worked with the community over the course of the semester. This lead to a discussion of the history of ESLARP from a traditional research approach to empowerment planning and Action Research and how this approach has benefited both students, faculty and residents of East St. Louis. It was our impression that many of the partnerships still struggle with the "expert university vs. residents in need of assistance" instead of using a mutual benefit approach to the work. We were glad to offer our model as a suggestion to improve relations. Diane became quite a celebrity following this session; all community partners wanted to meet with her and get more input on "how she got the university to do this kind of work with this approach." We were challenged during the session to remember that some of the achievements we described were small scale, and that we need to expand our vision towards real economic development in the community. We acknowledged this challenge and stated that residents and university will continue working with a similar approach to achieve increasingly more difficult tasks.
Following this session was a working lunch with very inspirational speakers on the issue of disparity in healthcare. After lunch we went on bus-tours of the partnership communities of Pittsburgh. This was followed by a reception with plenty of time for networking and there were many people who wanted to know more about ESLARP based on our presentation earlier that day. The evening was lots of fun on the "Three Rivers Tour" on the Gateway Clipper with dinner and dancing (Initiated by Diane and soon joined by lots of students, faculty and residents).
Friday morning Diane and Janni participated in a discussion session on "Leadership and Capacity building." This session confirmed that neighborhoods all over the country face similar problems of low participation and challenges of youth vs. older/ new vs. longtime residents. Some useful strategies were discussed and Diane will share these with NTAC staff and start using some of the ideas in Lansdowne. Jassen participated in a session on "Environment." This session discussed the issues confronting low-income communities in the path of gentrification due to the redevelopment of environmentally challenged areas such as brownfields, lead hazards, and ground contamination. Many of the environmental issues and their remediation were relevant to East St. Louis, but the fear of gentrification, as it relates to the redevelopment is not a topic of concern as of yet in East St. Louis.
This was followed by a plenary discussion session on Race, Class and COPC. Much of the discussion was on the continued disparity between the races that cannot be explained by class and on the "American Apartheid" with continued residential segregation. Very little of the discussion was directly related to COPC projects experiences with problems stemming from Class/Race issues.
After Lunch was the time for Janni's panel participation, which was repeated twice and therefore, took up the remainder of Friday afternoon (Jassen and Diane sat in on both these as well). The title of this presentation was "Increasing student participation: Including COPC activities in your curriculum"" Some key questions that were discussed were:
· How do we prepare students to do work with resident partners
· What are the different levels of students participation in our projects
· How can we work around the challenges of fitting a semester's work with the real life of residents in a community
· How can we ensure that residents truly benefit when working with students
· Challenges of institutionalization
It was clear from this discussion that ESLARP has a much longer and well-established history of including student in the COPC work than any of the other participants we heard from. Most student involvement seemed to be in the form of brief volunteer experiences, tours of neighborhoods or individual internships. It was hard for us to get any useful advice on how to improve ESLARP's work during this session but we did provide ideas for others. People were impressed with our "Small grant for new ESLARP faculty" and the fact that ESLARP was included in the job announcements for positions in LA, Arch and DURP's latest hires. The description provided of UP378's work also seemed to inspire many to think about using students in classes in a much more involved way.
This was the end of the conference for the three ESLARP delegates. Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information if some of this has sparked your interest.