The completion of our Fall 2016 Miami University Residency Program marks its eleventh iteration of this special community-university collaboration. Offered through the University’s Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine, the Residency Program continues to be unique. Over our ten years of operation, we have not found an equivalent community engagement immersion experience that is a full semester, interdisciplinary, with an academic rigor that fuses community and curriculum, administered jointly by professors and community leaders, in an urban setting and integrated with the needs of a long-standing social movement, and is situated within academic units of Miami University and across other universities as well.
This year was our largest cohort with eighteen, and because of this large number we expanded the Residency Program into Lower Price Hill. This year many academic units were represented as students came from Teacher and Art Education, Family Studies and Social Work, Social Justice Studies, Journalism, Sociology, Architecture and Interior Design, and the Western Program.
Meili Price, now in her third year as our Resident Coordinator, continued with the Residency Program’s Facebook page, keeping students informed of weekly community meetings and events. Meili also helped students to organize weekly community dinners with residents, thereby complementing academic work through building community relationships in neighborly ways. Meili is also working on our forthcoming e-book and organizing a Residency Alumni event as part of commemorating the Residency Program’s tenth anniversary.
Jennifer Summers, Executive Director of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, continued to teach her course Service- Learning. Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, and I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940. Our third course, ARC 405Z/ENG 338 Designing and Writing for Social Change, brought together a teaching team of myself, Christopher Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), and Dr. Alice Skirtz, long-time social worker and author of the important book Econocide: Elimination of the Urban Poor, a required text of the course. I am so grateful to the team, because when my health impaired my ability to contribute starting in mid-October, everyone picked up the slack. In particular a big burden fell to Bonnie, who kept the syllabus alive in our American City Since 1940 class, coordinated all the readings, gathered and commented on all the reaction papers due, and initiated class discussion. I’m deeply indebted to John Blake, who in addition to running the design/build studio full time, also began to be my proxy in both of the courses I was missing. Thank you, John.
Bonnie Neumeier, co-founder of many of the organizations that students perform their service, oversaw all aspects of the Program. She ran the students’ initial orientation, took them on long, historical neighborhood walks, and coordinated and supervised the service-learning experiences.
Most importantly, however, Bonnie met weekly with the students in organized sessions for reflection and journal writing, which was especially challenging this year with the large cohort. This year the cohort was divided into two journal circles. One group met in Lower Price Hill on Tuesday evenings; the other group in Over-the-Rhine on Wednesday evenings.
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the Center’s mission—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
Led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator and instructor of the Design-Build Studio, this semester we turned inward to our own physical plant for the studio. It may seem antithetical to design-build for ourselves while in Over-the-Rhine, but every seven years or so we need to make improvements to the Center for Community Engagement. Water damage to the space in the summer of 2016 made it imperative that we remove and replace the existing flooring.
The design-build cohort began by re-tiling the toilets with the textured commercial tile left over from our 1400 Republic project, and completed the term installing new 4’x4’ oriented strand board (OSB was an unlikely but surprisingly durable flooring choice made by our ancestors ca. 2001).
Lest this devolve into The Flooring Studio, we explored other initiatives that could present new means of engagement both internally and externally. Themes developed: more space to gather inside; a place for the community to gather inside; more engagement opportunities on the exterior including signage that better conveys our mission.
Short of removing the big column in the middle of the space (and this was considered briefly), it was evident that we could create a greater conversation circle by removing the non- load bearing east wall that separated the office/tool room from the main space. We retained the steel and canvas projection screen and it’s repurposed joist support from the 2009 remodel-
- but re-engineered it for movement along industrial tracks mounted to the brick walls. This took a great deal of product research and detailed sketching by Maggie, and only small amounts of epoxy to ensure a strong hold in the brick. It now slides back and forth to allow for expanded discussion groups and larger presentations, while keeping some useful shop and office space
But then where do we put all of the tools and clutter from the “office”? Suddenly, the studio realized there is no worse client than an architect. After lots of mind-changing and back-and-forth with John Blake about what should stay and what should go, a “tool wall” was developed to house the implements most frequently used by the studio while serving as an archive for drawing sets and models, maximizing the 12-foot ceiling height. Austin was the lead on this project, working through several design iterations and coordinating the construction. The client is “delighted”.
From experiences gathered by working with Les Cook and the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center adult literacy initiative on the fourth floor, design-build students proposed a community lounge for the former conference room. Brooke led the charge here, advocating a space for casual learning and community conversations, flanked by carrels for encouraging computer literacy.
We investigated the Cincinnati and historic district sign guidelines and then made proposals for window signage and projection signage. We put the Miami Red on the sills while it was warm, but waited until November before painting the upper storefront façade, which required a scissor lift. (Thanks to our gracious neighbor Venice on Vine for the warm hot chocolate that day.)
Prototypes for a new exterior projection signs were considered. We arrived quickly at the Center’s logo, metal-cut, welded to a slender base. These signs were extensively detailed by Emily and sent to a fabricator for cutting and welding.
Emily primed and painted the signs upon return. Again, we waited until the last minute before mounting one to the exterior just before the end-of-semester show.
With this semester, we “bit off more than we could chew,” but prevailed with the initiatives that had to happen, and expect to see other designs realized in the coming months,including exterior planters, interior light shelves, and a new kitchenette.
In our Community Assistance practice, the six student teachers worked in multiple schools: College Hill Fundamental Academy, Dater Montessori Elementary School, Gamble Montessori High School, Hughes High School, Oyler School, and Walnut Hills High School. All did their student-teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University, directed by Tammy Schwartz of College of Education, Health, and Society (EHS). Kim Wachenheim, also of EHS was the students’ teaching supervisor.
Our one Social Work major, Claire Cawley, worked closely with Amy Silver of Over-the Rhine Community Housing, a licensed social worker and an alumna of the Residency Program in 2007.
Our one Journalism major, Tess Sohngen, worked at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and spent much time with the StreetVibes newspaper writing stories and covering events. Tess was recognized at the Homeless Coalition’s annual dinner on December 7th for her outstanding work with StreetVibes. She was the recipient of the Jimmy Heath StreetVibes Contributor of the Year Award. In addition to the various stories she wrote, she organized a special issue to remember buddy gray being that it was the 20th anniversary of his tragic death.
Five other students doing community service benefited the following community-based organizations: Crossroad Health Center, Contact Center, Esther Marie Hatton Women’s Shelter, Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Cincinnati Interfaith Worker Center, and Peaslee Neighborhood Center. This semester was the largest group of students that we placed in neighborhood organizations. Each student has to do a minimum of twenty hours of service each week, often students put in more hours. In addition to the above organizations, the students in this year’s cohort also volunteered hours with Children’s Creative Corner, the O-T-R Learning Center, Over- the-Rhine Community Church, and the McMicken Free Space. Students also participated in rallies planned by a coalition of groups working with Black Lives Matter.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students from Miami and NKU again worked collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership.
Working together in groups from both universities, students produced a number of activist projects. Some students developed social media campaigns to engage the broader community on their views regarding issues related to gentrification. Other students created written and visual artifacts designed to engage Over-the-Rhine residents, workers, and visitors about their opinions on recent changes in the neighborhood. As one example, students made placards with provocative questions such as “Did You Know About Racial Justice, or Child Care, or Affordable Housing, or Public/Private Development in Over-the-Rhine?” and took their placards on to the Cincinnati streetcar to engage passengers in conversations. This group also had information for how citizens can get connected to neighborhood organizations addressing those issues. And other students created design documents that address ongoing development plans on a prominent street corner. In addition, all the students conducted oral history interviews with individuals representing Over-the-Rhine’s most historically marginalized residents, a project coordinated with Jenn Arens, Community Education and Volunteer Coordinator at Peaslee and now in her third year in that position. Finally, all also wrote editorials for StreetVibes, the newspaper of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.
Like last year, several events happened at the Center for Community Engagement that overlapped with the Residency Program. In September, the Center hosted artist/activist Charity White in a conversation about how through interventions and designs of public space, artists can respond to exclusionary practices to advocate for the rights of those homeless.
In October, the Center hosted Bradford Grant, Miami University Creativity Fellow this year visiting from Howard University in Washington DC. He had lunch with Rothenberg Preparatory Academy teachers, administrators, and community members, met with architecture students and toured Over-the- Rhine, and met with the students of Designing/Writing for Social Change class.
In November, John Blake of the Center and Maddie Sabatelli of the Cincinnati Alumni Chapter of Miami University coordinated an Alumni Service Day in Over-the-Rhine. In the spirit of events initiated by Alumni Bill and Pat Kern over the last several years, about twenty alumni volunteered with the students to repaint the ceiling of the Center.
Students from many walks of life moved to Over-the- Rhine and Lower Price Hill for a full semester, learning to develop community among themselves as they engaged the larger community, taking courses, engaging in reflection, and serving deep community need with neighborhood organizations, residents, and organizers. Like the prior ten iterations of this Program, a primary goal is for students and community members, through the relationships and trust they build, to come to see the humanity beneath the narratives that circulate about Over-the-Rhine. Too often these narratives dehumanize; a fact the students come to see vividly, which triggers their “just- anger” and their desire to develop empathy.
Perhaps we need more on the importance of empathy. In the Residency Program, we take our inspiration from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who wrote in his powerful Where Do We Go From Here? in 1968: “What is needed today on the part of white America is a committed altruism which recognizes this truth. True altruism is more than the capacity to pity; it is the capacity to empathize.
Pity is feeling sorry for someone; empathy is feeling sorry with someone. Empathy is fellow feeling for the person in need—his pain, agony and burdens. I doubt if the problems of our teeming ghettos will have a great chance to be solved until the white majority, through genuine empathy, comes to feel the ache and anguish of the Negroes’ daily life.”
Of course, it goes without saying that feeling the ache and anguish of ghetto daily life cannot be done from afar.
In the dizzying world that is Over-the-Rhine, for example, where the extremes of wealth and homelessness clash daily and provoke the question of how a neighborhood can build community under such circumstances, students come to navigate these conditions and come out for the better having done so. It would seem that empathy might be a natural outcome of these direct interactions, but alas, we have learned that such is not the case. Empathy has to be consciously built and negotiated across difference, in whatever form.
The students learn valuable skills in negotiating difference—by race and class especially—and standing up to the systemic forces that make community residents feel invisible, erased, disenfranchised.
There is much wisdom in the student reflections that follow. As you’ll read, students, again and again:
- discuss the importance of developing direct relationships with people as a pathway to developing empathy;
- reflect on the value of developing their own unique voice while working in solidarity with community people seeking to develop their unique voices;
- see the need to respect the culture of the neighborhood before one can intervene to improve conditions;
- come to see the huge difference between doing service and “walking with” people in struggle, a recognition that repositions community service as an isolated act of charity and now understands that service is the liberatory work when it is part of something in motion like a social movement;
- come to recognize that charity alone cannot ever be liberatory or revolutionary. Charitable service is seen as a nodal point on a path to a deeper
Student reflections from past cohorts can be seen at: http://arts.miamioh.edu/cce/residency_program.html.
Tabitha Nolan (EDT)
This semester in Over-the-Rhine has been an incredible, life- changing experience. As a member of the Urban Teaching Cohort, I have spent my entire college career taking weekend trips to this city and getting involved with the neighborhood. I have taken many community walks, I have spent a lot of time in local community classrooms, and I have had a lot of conversations with residents of this neighborhood. I had grown to love Over-the-Rhine in a very special way over the course of my college experience already, but (little did I know) deciding to do this Residency Program was going to be the first step in showing me what it truly meant to love a community in its entirety.
Living in this community has taught me many things. I have learned how to really foster a relationship with neighbors. I have learned so much about empathy, and I felt like I already knew everything there was to know in that area. I learned so much about myself, too, and I have grown up so much more as a result of my time here. I believe that I am more ready to be an activist, a genuine member of society who is willing and able to use her voice to speak for the people whose voices have been silenced, than I ever was before. Among the many things I have learned over the course of these last five months, these are three of the biggest things that are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
First, relationships… This was powerful for me. Over the summer, right before I moved in to my apartment here in Over-the-Rhine, I realized that I really struggled with what it looked like to develop and maintain good, healthy relationships with others. I feared vulnerability, I feared truth, and I feared love. Obviously, I know all of these things are good, but I feared embodying them in my own relationships because all too many times I have seen so much hurt as a result of doing so. I moved in to this apartment in August, with a fear of getting to know so many new people and new stories. These people were basically going to be my lifeline this semester, and I was going to have to find a way to trust them.
I saw the students in this program emulate solidarity perfectly in the first days of our experience and, before I knew it, I found myself slowly growing more vulnerable, more honest, and more loving. I saw this in my relationships with my peers, my professors and mentors, my students, and my neighbors. Living in this community and in this neighborhood has taught me that living this way is so important. I have learned that sometimes good things can hurt us, and that doesn’t make them any less good. Pain, difficulty, and adversity are some of the largest gateways for growth and for change. This community has experienced a lot of adversity, and just look at all the good there is to offer here. My ability to develop and foster relationships has been greatly encouraged here.
Second, empathy… My entire time at Miami University, I have spent the time learning how to be the very best version of myself possible. This started when I left my hometown for the first time and learned that there are some people in this world— in my very own state—who are so unaware of the pain and difficulties that other people in this world are subjected to every single day. Growing up in poverty without much materially, I understood that there are many needs in this world and that there is so much injustice in this country and in this world. Miami was a place of serious culture shock for me because I saw that so many people were so unaware of this, and it jumpstarted my desire to learn about social justice and what its implementation looks like. I have ultimately learned that empathy is very different from sympathy, and that I wanted to strive to be empathetic in all that I do. To me, sympathy is having pity on or for someone, whereas empathy is putting oneself in the shoes of another to really feel what it is that they are experiencing. I learned that from my time in the UTC Program prior to the Residency Program, but coming here and really living here was when I finally learned how to live it out.
This was a massive shock to me because I thought that I already did live it out, but being the privileged white girl that I am, I didn’t really realize that I had so far still to go. Talking with neighbors on my front stoop or in the park across the street or in the alleys on the way to Findlay Market, I found myself learning the struggle of what it is to live in a community that grows more and more gentrified—less and less every day like the culture and community in which they feel and had grown to be most comfortable. I felt so bad for this community and everything that has been happening here over the last three years, but coming here and living this reality was hard. Hearing the stories and seeing the pain and struggle every day was heartbreaking. Living here allowed me to really begin to practice empathy. I still have a long way to go, but I have learned so much about living in solidarity after these past five months in this resilient neighborhood.
Thirdly and lastly, myself… I have grown IMMENSELY this past semester. I have learned how to take care of myself. I have learned that I am strong and fierce and brave all by myself, but this doesn’t mean I need to isolate myself or not appreciate the ability to lean on others, because there is so much strength to be found in a group of beautiful souls. I have learned many practical things, like how to manage money a little better, how to make fresh produce go so far in my meals, how to treat a house when there is a bedbug scare, how to act and carry myself in a big city, and how to make grown-up phone calls and deal with grown-up situations like water leaks and car problems. I have learned that my story is beautiful, that my voice is meaningful, and that my life is valuable. I have learned that emotions are so good and I have learned how to embrace them and use them in the most effective ways possible. I have learned how to be a better person in so, so, so many ways, and this semester is the biggest reason for all of these things…
I have made it my goal this semester to bring so many people to this neighborhood to see that it is not a bad place, and that the stereotypes that exist about this neighborhood are entirely false. I am so excited that I could change the perspectives of so many people as a result of just me living here. I am also really looking forward to continuing living this way—to continuing living against and pushing against the norms of society and challenging the status quo—and I don’t see myself ever stopping living this way. I found my voice here, and I will never forget that.
Magda Orlander (WST & SJS)
When I walked into the office on Monday morning this last week, the first thing my boss said to me was “welcome home”. I came to my placement with a lot of motivation and with a lot of insecurity in my heart. In my first journal entry, I wrote about a feeling of too-muchness; a feeling of always already taking up too much space that I was not allowed to have. When you traffic in ideas, holed up in classrooms, it can feel as though your presence is of little physical importance, as though you don’t inhabit a space more than intellectually. But when your work is rooted in place, your own presence takes on a different meaning.
I come from a poor, immigrant family—the ethos of having to “earn your place” has accompanied me all my life. But when we all first came down here, Bonnie said to us that we are now a part of this community. It felt strange to have a place without having earned it first. It occurs to me now that if we are going to interrogate the mandate of productivity and the idea of the “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor,” then we must also dismantle the idea that our own worth is so tied to productivity. That’s what makes the difference between service and “walking with”—service means that you see someone else needing help and you give it to them, but walking with means that you look at someone with a loving perception. It means believing that a person should have a home not because their circumstances enlist sympathy but because everyone should have a home. There are so many insidious ways in which the neoliberal ethos creeps into our personal lives, not just because it’s a superstructure that governs our lives with regard to material resources; but also in the most basic ways in which we see ourselves. We learn to carry with ourselves the idea that if we are not productive, we don’t deserve stability or safety or happiness or health. We learn to police ourselves and to police each other. And while many come to unlearn the policing of others through compassion and empathy, it is difficult to unlearn the reflex to police ourselves. But if we can’t have compassion for ourselves then we are doomed to only ever serve others. I am no stranger to circumstances of need. All around this community, I recognize bits and pieces of my history and of my mother’s face littered all over. And because of that, I understand that there is nothing revolutionary about charity.
Here, I have learned how to do work that is not charity. The whole point of the Worker Center is to be a resource for workers to lead their own fight for workplace justice. This is a place of liberation, of everyday revolutions. Especially in these times, it has been so good to be able to do work that is meaningful and that matters beyond my transcripts. Living here has meant that I have been able to connect to the network of organizing in intensive and meaningful ways that could not have happened otherwise. It has meant picketing with Black Lives Matter in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse every morning for two weeks, it has meant organizing an action at the McMicken Freespace, it has meant coming into the office every day knowing that there is work to be done, and it has meant celebrating our victories too; it has meant absolutely everything. It has made real for me what my life could be like in the future, and it has given me tools to figure out how to connect to the community wherever I go.
I will miss most about living in Over-the-Rhine the feeling that I get walking to work in the morning. The feeling of walking with a purpose. The kind of purpose that makes you realize that every step you take counts. Every face you pass is important. Every word you speak matters. The feeling of going to the office and being welcomed home; the feeling of belonging not just to a community, but to a place, to be a little rooted.
I have done the work, I have read the assigned texts, I have completed assignments, though many times late. But regardless of what I have earned, here are a few things I know for sure that I deserve: I deserve liberation. I deserve a world where the resources that we have are shared and used mindfully, where people do not have to live in fear and repression, where we can all access a roof over our heads, food to warm our bellies, education to nurture our souls, care for when we are sick and wanting. I deserve these things not because I am special, but because we all deserve these things, and we already have everything that we need to make it happen. The people here in Over-the-Rhine work to build this kind of world. Working alongside this community, I have learned in so many ways to see myself as part of the liberation that I dream of. That is perhaps the greatest gift that community organizing gives me: the deeply embodied knowledge that I am part of this, that I move with the movement, and that we are all worthy.
On these last nights I often sit and ponder the view from my house on Washington Park, the cold air, the twinkle lights, the people walking by, the friends I share this place with. I think to myself: “how lucky am I that I have gotten to live here – how lucky am I that I have gotten to learn how to live”. I know that this will always be home.
Cassidy Venema (SJS)
This semester was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Going in to this program, I thought I knew what to expect. I had a friend who had done the program the previous year, and she had told me thoroughly about what this semester would be like.
When I arrived, I found that city life was more than I had anticipated.
I am going to be honest with you when I say this semester was very difficult for me. Being a Social Justice Studies major, I felt that I was already aware of the harsh realities of systemic racism and oppression embedded in our country. This still holds true, but I don’t think I was truly ready to experience it.
Living in the city, I was surrounded by struggles.
Moving through the streets I was constantly seeing faces of people from many different walks of life, which I hadn’t realized would be so strange to me. Living in Oxford and attending Miami University had surrounded me with people roughly my same age, background, and socioeconomic status. Now in Cincinnati, I found myself passing people who were old and young, wealthy and poor, black and white—each person having lived a drastically different life than mine. It was overwhelming to pass so many people facing homelessness every day, and constantly being approached for money.
A lot of this semester helped me be more aware of my privilege. Before the program I definitely knew of my privilege, but here in Cincinnati I was confronted with it constantly and in new ways. Yes, it was overwhelming to see so many people struggling on the streets, but I can step away from it. It must be so much more overwhelming to be in the middle of it and not easily escape. That is one of the reasons why I feel community work in a city is very important. We must all work together with our various resources to create change. I cannot live comfortably knowing that there are others who were not given the same advantages as me, and are constantly facing barriers within their lives. We must all use our strengths to link together to face these challenges as one.
Many days I would come back to the apartment and hate the city. Most of the time I felt like a wilted plant—one that was growing bright but then had been left out of the sun for too long and had lost its strength. It is emotionally exhausting to learn what we learned in class and see it every day all the time in and outside my internship placement. But these issues are not the cities’ fault. Cincinnati did not create racism, and the tall buildings and dirty sidewalks didn’t force anyone to leave.
People did this to other people. People creating and maintaining policies and social norms and stigmas that oppress some and benefit others. Housing is a major issue in Over-the-Rhine, but the buildings themselves did not cause the gentrification. The people did.
One way out of this hole of despair is education. I like to believe that a lot of people out there maintaining the system think they are doing good things and are unaware of the larger impacts, or realize that they are even a part of the problem. So many people may look at a new building in Over-the-Rhine and see it as an improvement, and not realize that the new housing will displace affordable homes and cause rents of nearby apartments to rise, forcing the families within them to move. In a way, a lot of people are just working towards what they believe to be a better community; they just are unaware of the full consequences of their actions. Education is a major way of placing social justice concepts and thoughts into people so that an all-encompassing community movement can be achieved.
I believe I have been called to be an educator of these things. Once you are awakened with the reality, you can’t go back to sleep. And you’re going to be tired for a long time, but that’s the way it has to be if you are going to work towards equity. A role that I have skill and confidence in is volunteer coordination and group discussion and facilitation. I want to be someone who can introduce people with privilege with the idea of it and other social justice thoughts. I want to bring others out of their slumber to walk and fight with the truth.
Teaching others about social justice has been a goal of mine even before this program, but now I feel like I have more authority to speak on it. I am grateful for the experiences I went through this semester, as tiresome and exhausting as they were, because at least I was a part of something that changed me. I would rather be awake, tired, and cranky than ignorantly asleep constantly contributing to the pain of others. Even though I am cranky and tired when I am awake, with it comes hunger and drive for change and moving forward.
Hayley Huge (SJS)
When I think about everything I’ve done this semester, I can’t believe it’s already been fifteen weeks. In some ways I feel like we haven’t even made a dent. Gentrification is still happening, 3CDC hasn’t fallen to the ground, the development at Liberty and Elm is still on its way to being built, and Donald Trump is going to be our next president. I often get caught up in my desire to fix everything all at once and create a perfect and just society (I’ll admit I’m an idealist) and I forget that it can’t happen overnight. But last night’s Open House, particularly the presentation by the Lower Price Hill teachers, reminded me to appreciate the small victories, the person-to-person connections that keep us going everyday.
Looking back on this semester, there have been so many powerful moments, like the ones shared by my peers that have given me hope. Every single day working with the amazingly strong women at Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) has been empowering, but one morning stood out in particular. The day after the presidential election we sat in the office feeling defeated, Mel, Allison, and baby Colin, for whom I could not help feeling that we failed. Although we were disappointed, we did not wallow. We got to work. We sat around our table and drafted a letter, each of us providing our own thoughts and throughout it all supporting one another. It took an hour and a half to write a single page. But even though one person may have been able to do it faster, our result was something that reflected our shared community and feelings and because of this, it was infinitely better.
Something that had been essential to my experience at IJPC (and the residency program as a whole) is the strong camaraderie and support between women. When IJPC started, it was founded by Sisters of Charity who empowered one another to embrace the fight for justice and peace. Today, people of all genders walk through the doors, but women’s empowerment is still central to the core of IJPC. Our walls are flooded with images of powerful women and feminist quotes. My favorite, which hangs right behind my desk, says “Progress for Women is Progress for All.” Being in such a space had been invaluable to me.
Outside of the classroom and my work I also found amazing work being done for social justice causes. I was very inspired by the efforts of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati and other groups. Every weekend was a different protest: Justice for Sam Dubose, NoDAPL, Defend DACA, Stop Trump, Pro- Choice, the list goes on. On one Saturday, after the election of Donald Trump and during the trial of Ray Tensing, two groups planned protests downtown. As the two met at a corner, they joined side by side. Hundreds of people walked together, holding posters and sharing chants. When the group finally stopped in Washington Park hundreds of people stood with their fists in the air, promising to keeping fighting for justice.
Coming from Oxford, where large actions like this are rare and in much smaller groups, being a part of these movements was extremely encouraging.
Every single day in this program changed me a little bit and inspired me a little more. Even on days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, thinking about all the other people in the community getting up too pushed me forward. There are so many people living in Over-The-Rhine, some of whom have been here for decades, who are doing things everyday to make their community better, not just for themselves, but also for their neighbors. I have tried to absorb this strength everyday and remember to stay empathetic, no matter what is going on in my own life. I’ve become a much better listener and a much more educated person because of my time here.
Alexa Brown (ART ED)
Living in community has definitely affected my worldview. Before this Program, I don’t think I had a full understanding of what “community” means. I had community through my church. While this is kind of similar, it varies drastically in that a living community is so much more than just a group of people you see once a week at a specific function.
This Over-the-Rhine community is a group of people that see each other every day, living together as a family with goals they work towards together in good times and bad. I never even realized that such a thing existed! I live in a neighborhood where people rarely speak to each other unless you are next door neighbors or your kids are friends. This experience was super cool, and I now understand the importance of giving to your community. Because of my experiences in Over-the- Rhine, it is important that I will live in one like this in my future.
I think the main way I was able to foster empathy with community members was through my interaction with the homeless. Before this Program, I had a very different understanding of homelessness. I was the person who was raised to never give a homeless person money because I was taught that they would just spend it on drugs and alcohol, enabling the problem. I now understand that while giving money every time you see someone is not realistic, there is still a need to be kind and respectful. I have given money, made conversation, heard stories, and made people’s days brighter simply by my interaction.
It was incredible to be able to student teach under these circumstances. I loved being able to hop on the bus downtown with my students and ride to school each morning. I could see the surprise on their faces when I’d run into them in Over-the- Rhine. They’d be shocked to hear about our Program’s involvement with the rallies downtown and loved joining in on local political discussions. I really don’t think that if I went into a teaching placement under different circumstances I would be able to have the same depth of understanding or empathy for my students. Through this Residency Program, I was able to see from multiple perspectives the struggles my students dealt with every day.
My largest takeaway from my time here is really a no- brainer: a deeper understanding of my privileges. I can’t really explain it in any other way than to say that 4 months ago, my whole life, I didn’t get it. And now, I’m on my way. I feel like it’s really hard to explain to others what this experience has been like, and that for anyone to fully understand, they’d have to experience it themselves. My best friend goes to UC and has lived in Cincinnati for 4 years. Going into this program, she had the same viewpoints on many issues such as privilege and homelessness. I remember her coming to pick me up to go out on one of my first nights there, and her practically yelling at me to not talk to a homeless man who was trying to have a conversation with us. She was scared and had grown accustomed to being cautious and putting up a guard. Even just through the conversations we’ve had and the few visits she’s made, she now has a completely different understanding of the Over-the-Rhine community. She says how stupid and ignorant she was, that she is embarrassed to ever have acted the way she did. I have much the same feelings, and am so excited that my involvement here was able to impact the life of someone I care for.
If I had to give advice to someone unfamiliar with this community, it would be this: show respect and love for everyone you encounter. Don’t be afraid, just give others a chance. It can be scary to be vulnerable, especially if you aren’t use to or familiar with a specific scenario. But if you go into every interaction with others with an open heart and mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Anna Lucia Feldmann (SJS)
I moved into Over-the-Rhine with my fellow classmates in August. I learned that I was placed at the Contact Center and the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women. The Contact Center is a member-based organization, which organizes around issues of benefits rights, health care, caregiving, and quality housing. The organization is 90% women. The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women is a shelter for women experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati. I also volunteered for Children’s Creative Corner, took classes at the Center for Community Engagement and Peaslee Neighborhood Center, spent my spare time at protests and planning meetings for the Black Lives Matter, Anti-Dakota Access Pipeline, and Reproductive Rights movements. Being in Over-the-Rhine for this specific semester—the semester of the Trump election, the trial of Ray Tensing, and the abortion bans–had a profound effect on how I experienced Over-the-Rhine. These months were challenging, hectic, and rewarding.
At internships where my main job is interacting with people, I had a myriad of small conversations that wove an intricate experience. I learned a lot about power in these conversations and in my outside activism. My job at the Contact Center involved interviewing people for letters to politicians urging them not to cut government programs. It seemed like there was a different government program in danger. At the same time, I was writing grant inquiries to companies like Kroger, which played a part in the founding of 3CDC and subsequent directed gentrification of the neighborhood, as well as multinational corporations like Walmart which lead international exploitation through neoliberal capitalism. I really believe in the folks of the Contact Center and their organizing, but it felt frustrating to spend our energy begging to maintain what little benefits we have and to continue to be funded by the same people who contribute to poverty. Almost everyone I interviewed said that the amount of benefits they receive is not enough to cover their costs. If only we could be fighting for raising benefits or better yet, exploring alternative modes of distribution like community control of resources! But instead, we are kept poor and underfunded and must always be on the defensive. That being said, the work the Contact Center does is incredibly powerful in its own way. On any given day, you can find women, most of whom are black, goofing around, fundraising, and sharing advice and resources for survival. In class, we talked about the concept of econocide—the removal of economic others. These women are resisting econocide together.
At the Esther Marie Hatton Center, women are also resisting econocide. They lost their home and work for whatever reason and made their way to the center to have a safe place to exist. I compiled an updated list of affordable housing in Cincinnati for them because the one from the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t keep up with the constant process of change and development in the housing market. So many places were not taking applications, or if they were, their wait list was a yearlong. It’s horrible that there are vacant buildings but not enough housing to prevent an absolute overflow of people seeking affordable housing. Around the time I was compiling this list, I was also learning about the huge market-rate housing development that will be at the corner of Liberty & Elm. I went to a Community Council meeting with the developer and people pressed him to explain the absolute lack of affordable housing in the development. His response was that if it were required, he would do it. Later, I went to the City Planning Commission (CPC) meeting to approve or deny the development where the Planning Commission stated that affordable housing was not within the scope of development discussion. I wanted the developer and the CPC to see how many homeless women we have to turn away every day. Nearly 30 community members spoke out against the development, but the CPC gave approval with little attention to the actual concerns of residents. It didn’t feel like we were given any real consideration in the decision. Influence of decision-making is a definition of power and a lack of it a definition for oppression. What happens when those in power simply aren’t willing to listen? I grappled with this question every day in Over-the- Rhine and it’s not going to leave me soon.
The other day, a friend asked me to tell her about gentrification in Over-the-Rhine. I said, “Ok, let me start in 2001 with the aftermath of the murder of Timothy Thomas and creation of 3CDC. Wait—let me start with deindustrialization after World War II. Wait—let me start with Federal Housing Authority in the 1930s.” Eventually, I began my story at the turn of the 19th century. Being a part of community with such rich history of grassroots survival and resistance was an honor and being able to study gentrification from its root causes is invaluable in today’s world.
Emily Waldinger (ARC)
When I first arrived in Over-the-Rhine, I was ready and willing to build relationships. Having very recently experienced the power of relationship building in Ghana this past summer, I felt like I was going to be an expert at making new friends in Over-the-Rhine. Since leaving Ghana, I craved a sense of community, where I walked down the street, and nearly everyone would shout my name and say hello to me. So as my first step, I began to practice that in OTR myself. I intentionally tried to make eye contact with strangers so that I could smile and say “hello” or “how are you?” When I learned people’s names I made it a point to greet them directly saying, “Good morning, Paul!” or “What’s up James?”
But, honestly, after that first step it was not hard to foster relationships. I almost had to do no work at all. Once I showed even the slightest interest in people, it was amazing how vulnerable and real they would be with me. I hardly share such deep emotions with my closest friends. In any given conversation, it did not take much to hear their stories. At my first breakfast at Over-the-Rhine Community Church, there was a man sitting next to me that just sat back with an indifferent look on his face, not eating breakfast, just watching everyone else. I said hi to him and he nodded. I was a little closed off by his demeanor, so I did not pursue a conversation. The next Sunday, I sat down and he initiated contact and said “I remember you from last week.” We got to talking and I discovered that this man, Aaron, was one of the most kind- hearted, intellectual, and adventurous people I have ever met.
His indifferent face changed to a smile that was so bright and contagious, I believe he would make any friend and get any job with that smile and firm handshake. He told me how he lived in Cincinnati for 25 years since he was eight years old, but it did not feel like home. He and his mom used to travel all over the country by train and by bus. Sadly, five years ago his mom passed away. Now he travels on his own, trying to find a place that feels like home. This was just the first of multiple conversations with Aaron. It was my interactions and relationships with people like Aaron, Paul, James, Tony, and Earl that were a catalyst for empathy and understanding. But, I still do not get it. How do these people share so much with people that they hardly know, and know that they are going to leave them soon? How are they so willing to foster such fleeting relationships? Why am I willing to? After processing that I am leaving these people soon, I got angry at myself. Why do I keep doing this? Why does anyone do this? Why do I go to Ghana and OTR and make these friends and hear stories and build relationships just to leave them all behind? I’m still trying to answer that question.
I tried to pour as much of myself as I could into this neighborhood, this experience, and this community. Other than for a short time in Ghana, I have never been so intentional about how I spend my time and how to interact with others. Even in my hometown, at Miami University, or just within my small community in Alumni Hall, I have never been a part of a community like Over-the-Rhine. I was engrossed by the American way of life, even after I came back from Ghana and tried to run away from it. It’s all about me, my education, my career, my health, my wallet, and my time. No matter how hard I tried, I could never seem to spend even half of my day working for someone or something other than myself. Being in Over-the-Rhine helped me to escape the American way of life sometimes. Just by seeing how others in the community were working with and for other people made me realize I can do it. One of the most formative interactions that shaped my view as a community member was with Elizabeth Burnside. She is not only a loving grandmother, but also a familiar face at the Rothenberg Parent Center and at Peaslee. She has worked hard to love on this community, yet she has only been here for three years. She speaks of and advocated for Over-the-Rhine like it is where she was born and raised. Her efforts made me believe that even in a short amount of time, I can show love to a community. Being an intentional community member has softened my heart and opened my eyes to issues I never knew or tried to ignore. I could not ignore them when my friends were the people being oppressed. I recognized my privilege, and decided to use it as a tool for helping those that do not have privilege. I had the ability to go to a seven-hour long Planning Commission meeting, so I did it. Instead of dwelling in my guilt for my privilege, I want to take the advantages that I have, and use them to be a voice for those whose voices are not heard and not listened to.
In my time here in Over-the-Rhine I have reflected on my future profession and wonder if designed environments can shape social and community contexts and allow for the emergence of respect, empathy, and relationship. On one hand, I could be pessimistic and cynical and say no. No, designed environments cannot shape social and community context and allow for respect, empathy, and relationship. Even if you were to try, people and our society are flawed. The forces at work within our society do not allow for the respect of all people. We are taught to be implicitly biased, to walk down the streets and hallways with a preconceived judgment of those we are walking by. I do not think design can solve this problem. I do not think that society would allow design to solve this problem.
On the other hand, I could draw from experiences and say that I have hope that design can allow for respect, empathy, and relationship. I do not think that it takes much to design a place that can encourage these things. I think that more work goes into figuring out how to keep people out and make (some) people not feel welcomed. The key is that they do not want all people to feel excluded, just the ones that they do not want in their space. For instance, the first guy that made a park bench just thought, “Ok, all I need is a long seat for a few people to sit on, and ta-da!” Then others found it unappealing to see homeless people sleeping on benches and stoops. So they had to have a few extra thoughts to add another arm bar to make it seem like they were allowing for a more comfortable place to sit, when really it was just a measure taken to exclude persons homeless.
I found in Over-the-Rhine that most places can be inclusive and foster respect and empathy and relationships. In Over-the-Rhine Community Church, I saw people feel comfortable enough to share a meal and life stories. I heard someone say when leaving the breakfast, “There is something different about this place… and I like it.” In the Center for Community Engagement people from many different walks of life would come in to say hi or just out of curiosity. I recognized the beauty of our inability to really mark that space, because it fostered engagement and relationship. I can’t even remember how many times someone came in through our doors wondering what the place was all about. Sometimes, design can’t tell the whole story, and it shouldn’t. I used to believe the saying that design should speak for itself. I do still, to some extent, but the interaction between a person and another person is far more rich and valuable than an interaction between a person and a space (can I still be an architect if I say that?). So maybe it is not entirely about design and its ability to allow these things. Perhaps even more important are the people that inhabit the space and their responsibility to allow for empathy, respect, and relationship.
Madison Tracy (EDT)
The most substantial part about this program for me as I am sure is the same for most of my peers, was that for the first time I was living and working in a drastically different community than I have been accustomed to for an extended time. For the first time, I was living in a community plagued by poverty. For the first time, I was living in a community where people had different cultural norms than my own. I was nervous when I first arrived in Lower Price Hill that the relationships would be challenging to navigate and build due to these difference.
However, I found that as a teacher and tutor serving in Lower Price Hill, it was very easy to get to know the students and families. I realized very quickly by building solid relationships with the parents/family of my students that we were united in the common goal of providing the best education possible for the students.
The stereotype persists that people who experience poverty do not value education, which paints a dangerous single narrative of the lives of people who are in a lower economic bracket. The assumption that a person’s socioeconomic status can predict their values and worldviews is ridiculous. However, this experience opened up my eyes to the barriers that people experiencing poverty face and how this intersects with education. For example, this specific community is known as a resource desert. There are no places to shop for groceries and other necessities within walking distance. Community residents need a car to get to many of these places which is a luxury. This has a direct impact on the students’ education as it is difficult to acquire basic resources. If students and families basic needs are not being adequately met, the education process will suffer as well as other important areas of the residents’ lives. I think these are basic facts that many fail to think about when considering the lives of people experiencing poverty. In addition to being involved in the school, I also used the local Laundromat and was able to reconnect with many families and students outside of the school as well as build new relationships with people. I feel that my role as a teacher in this program allowed a powerful space for me to strengthen my empathy for others. A major takeaway from my teaching experience was listening to the stories and voices of my students who are experiencing life at 5 and 6 years old somewhat differently than I did growing up. I am able to admit that I will never know what their unique lives and culture are fully like as an outsider, but by critically engaging and listening to their voices I can work towards a deeper understanding and empathetic relationship building with them.
I observed student voices being shut down constantly at my school and it is always done by people with the “power.” Therefore, it became part of my mission to try and create learning spaces in which students could use their voice and share their stories in methods that also are academically focused. There are a number of things I will miss about my time in Lower Price Hill, but I think the biggest one is the people and students that I have come to know and love during my time living here. The relationships we have made and built together are irreplaceable and I will miss my students, families, and community members dearly. For people who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood of Lower Price Hill, I would tell them that the neighborhood is a very tight knit community with a lot of people with fantastic lives and stories just like any other neighborhood. I would urge them to go hang out at the local Laundromat or the new LPH Pizza Company and truly listen to the voices that are typically left unheard by their demographic.
Maggie Woolf (ARC)
I grew so much as a human being and how I look at the world as a result of this Program that I know that it is valuable regardless of any letter grade. I fostered relationships with community members in many ways, but I found the most important way was by taking time to sit down or stand with the people I ran across day after a day working on the Center and walking home to my apartment. I always stopped to listen. The man who day after day spent time sitting out front of the Center’s storefront of 1300 Vine, we chose to invite him into our space to use the restroom, and one of my favorite days when we shared our computer with him to play some of his favorite music. The band was not familiar to me, but that day I could feel the joy from him being able to share something with us. I will miss him. I also fostered my relationships in the community by taking part in the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center with Les. I was given the opportunity to become a teacher to help adults learn how to operate a computer. It was a great moment when my student Pamela finally passed the typing practices. We’d laugh and joke about things that were happening and after the four-week seminar was over I hated to see her go. Being in the community it was the small interaction by saying hello like I did everyday to Mr. Earl and making sure to stop and ask how he was doing. I never will forget the hellos as I am so often reminded of them as I said goodbye. I’ll probably stay in touch with a few of people I have met through church and Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, and I felt just as I was leaving I finally became a neighbor too.
Until this experience I had always assumed that what I read in a book or saw on TV was real. It was my definition of my understanding of cultural identity. It was this experience that has made me realize how much goes unnoticed, unmentioned, and unconsidered in society. I never was one to want to go out of my way to bring up discussions of politics because it brought up conflict, which I saw in a very negative manner. I hated it. And until being in Over-the-Rhine and having the opportunity to be immersed within the public dialogue did I realize the importance of being actively engaged. So many things seemed to get through the hand of public officials that neglected to consider the opinion of the community. The fight and energy I witnessed and became a part of has inspired me to think about what this means when I go back to Oxford. What had I missed there because I had remained inside the bubble that was called Alumni Hall? What choices have been made about my education that I had no idea were being made? This reality shook me to my core. It unveiled an opportunity to find strength in myself through the inspiring hope that so many in the community held. I have always wanted to help those less fortunate than me. In so many ways working alongside them as equals is so much more important to reaching for change that is inclusive of all human beings, not just those at the top. Community is a voice that is irreplaceable and I as a community member wherever I end up must find the strength to speak up to fight for the people who have been rejected from society. Poverty does not and should not define a person, and too often we see that it does. I have learned to step into the shoes to become a neighbor that is more than a smiling face. I have learned the role in which I am going on, the advocate, to make development work for all.
In architecture we are encouraged to assume the greater good for the people in our designs, however, sometimes this component is catered towards the select and not a majority.
However, I have learned how good design must encompass both values. It can be done. As it was done at the Center we chose to relinquish our own space to become open to the community and redesigned the gathering space to expand to the growing needs of the community for large events. Good design can happen to influence change. This is the reality I am moving towards. I see my role is to continue the fight for the designs that influence positive change in society; that will create chances for collaboration on physical space that include the voices of all inhabitants. I am not sure how I will continue this narrative, however, I know I will find a way.
Over-the-Rhine has helped me see myself that extends beyond my small town community background. I am stepping forward with my eyes wide open. I understand where I stand in the eyes of society standards and I have lost and then found what that means or where I go from living in the dark. It was hard, confusing, and exhausting, however, I have found myself stronger than ever.
Corrine Brown (EDT)
It is so easy as a teacher to get mixed up with how every minute of the day is absolutely full of checklists to complete, meetings to attend, and lessons to plan. However, the points in the semester where I felt the most effective in my teaching were the times when I wasn’t following a lesson plan or trying to complete a task, but having real conversations with my students and recognizing their voices as important and integral to the world at large.
All it takes is one simple minute of time to show a student care and empathy and to allow space for the student to activate his or her voice. One example of this happening during my student teaching experience was with one of my more difficult students. He struggles to regulate his emotions and his physical movements, so he is often a disruption in the general classroom because he is always busting out in a dance move or giggling instead of listening to the teacher. He came back to my classroom after taking a trip to the principal’s office. He was very upset from his encounter with the principal and I asked him how he was feeling. He told me that he felt like he was trying to do the right thing, but he could never ever be successful at doing the right thing because he always messed it up by being bad. He felt like everyone at school believed he was always going to mess up, so he never had the chance to prove them wrong because every little problem landed him in the office. I felt for him so much at that moment because reflecting on my own interactions with him, I would be quick to point out what he was doing wrong in a situation, but never quick to point out things he was doing right. By listening to what he had to say, I felt what he was feeling and then I put those feelings into action. From that conversation forward, I made sure to not watch him like a hawk and to give him a chance to do the right thing before jumping at him for doing the wrong thing. Not only did our relationship improve, he began to feel more confident in who he was as a student.
This is the biggest takeaway that I will have from my Lower Price Hill experience. The power of listening. I will definitely take this practice into my future classroom because amongst all the grading and the lesson planning are these 87 lives that I get the opportunity to affect every single day and I don’t want to waste those minutes I get to spend with my students worrying about the next meeting I need to prepare for and to just take the one minute to listen to what is happening in their lives and to treat their voices with the respect and dignity they deserve. I hope that my classroom will be a safe space for students to speak their truth. Just getting a little taste of it in my semester in Lower Price Hill proved to me that this is where I need to be and this is what I need to be doing because teaching students is important, but teaching them to use their voices to advocate for themselves is vital to our communities and to our future.
Brooke Adams (ARC)
The Residency Program helped me discover two very important things. The first being the importance of my voice. I wish I would have spoken up more, and I wish that my feelings and insecurities hadn’t gotten the best of me. If I learned anything during this experience, it’s that people’s voices need to be heard. I believe that my personal experience with this is very powerful, because I feel as if I can relate very closely with so many people in the community that want to speak up about issues, but are afraid to. People are afraid of not saying the right thing, of not being intelligent enough, or powerful enough. The other day, during presentations, I had heard someone express the importance of speaking up and being an active community member. They had said something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter who you are or how intelligent what you think you’re saying is, what matters is that you’re saying something”. I full- heartedly agree with that statement. I believe that so many people are afraid to speak up, are convinced that they don’t matter and that they are only “one person”. Though, if I learned anything, it’s that change happens one person at a time. I am thankful to have experienced being in the shoes of the outsider, of the oblivious, of the nervous and the insecure, because I now understand how other people in my community feel and am able to not only allow myself to grow from this, but help others grow as well.
The second thing that I had learned from this experience is that I felt most engaged outside of class. I felt most engaged at community events, meetings, volunteering opportunities, walks around the neighborhood and journaling. For as much as I do agree that the classes I took part in were important for my education, what happened outside of class was important for my experience. Through volunteering in the community at Children’s Creative Corner and The Learning Center, I was able to create meaningful one-on-one relationships with children and adults in the neighborhood, and not only teach others, but allow them to teach me as well. Through going to meetings, I was able to witness the issues that are taking place in Cincinnati, and was able to understand the importance of being an active community member. Through going to journaling once a week and writing during my own time, I was able to deeply reflect on my experience as I lived it, and watch myself grow. I was also able to listen to others and understand their struggles and growths, and gain a greater perspective of their experiences.
Through going to community events, I felt the joy of what it is like to be a part of an excited, passionate and united group of people.
I’m unsure of how this experience will reflect on my profession, other than allowing me to remain empathetic and aware of the people and issues going on around me—I’d like to hope that I will discover this as I go. Though, what I am sure of is how this experience will reflect on my future as a community member. Due to the experiences I’ve had here, I’m inspired to attend community meetings and events and partake in the activities that are happening in my neighborhood. I’m motivated to speak up and reach out to people in my community and carry through the things that I’ve learned and compassion that I’ve gained through this experience.
Catherine Brown (EDT)
My teaching placement for me blurred the line between empathy and justice. I came into this placement with some awareness of injustices happening to the people of the Cincinnati area. During our class this semester, we looked more into those issues. As a teacher, I came with empathy for my students. I came in ready and willing to fight for them. I still am. However, I am now more aware about how much more power and sturdiness I need to have.
Walking into the second story building of the school the floors are linoleum, the walls are painted, but have marks on them, and are sparsely decorated with students’ artwork. It’s the second month of school and you quickly walk to your classroom, ready to see what you will be learning about today. Placed at your desk is the morning work for the day. Hanging up your things, you get right to it. Other students filter in and you are working on the worksheets; they are not hard, but they take a long time to do. The students start gathering at the carpet to begin the day, but you are still trying to read the story on the paper. Start. St-ar-t. S-t-a-r-t. Skip that word and continue reading to figure it out. Why can the student next to you who isn’t as smart sound out words and get the word right away?
You’re smart. You should be able to do it. You must just not be trying hard enough.
“You need to be working faster, come on, you can’t always be missing carpet time.” Push through the reading, skip the words you don’t know, you need to hurry it up. Questions still need to be answered for the reading. A student at another desk starts crying because they can’t go faster. The student is comforted, but by the end of the day and the rest of the year it will be expected of students to go faster.
This continues everyday, all day, and even when completing homework at home. For spelling tests, you try to learn the words, but the phonics is not coming together. The people around you are becoming frustrated because they keep going over the words and the word patterns with you, but it is not working. To keep up with the class, you start to memorize the spelling of the words. Only problem now is when you go to write some words you go completely blank, and sounding out the word gets you nowhere close.
“Your spelling word is gut. He had a gut feeling. Gut.” Okay, you’ve got this. It’s okay, try to sound it out. G-a-t. No, it could be g-u-t. But, it has the u sound, which sounds like the a sound. It must be gat. Yep, that’s right, I am writing gat.
It comes time for parent teacher conferences and your mom wants to bring up the concerns she has for you from the perspective of home. While at the meeting she would also like to see if she could get you tested, just to see if you have a learning disability. The teacher explains that she would need to talk to the office about that. Mom goes to the office and a meeting is set.
It comes time for the meeting. The school comes in and explains that they do not think you need to be tested. Your grades are high enough and you are not at the bottom of the class. They might even give your mom a packet full of legal jargon explaining the process. By the end of the meeting, no testing is set up for you. Ninety days pass from the date testing was requested, and no testing is done.
This situation could happen anywhere. Something needs to change in the system of the school. Parents need the school to test their students because they cannot afford testing. However, schools are tight on money and they cannot afford the testing or employ enough people to test the students. The situation can be viewed from both sides, but until it is solved students are being affected for the rest of their lives for not being tested and therefore going undiagnosed. Sometimes, the smallest accommodations can help a student, like extra time to complete work, but right now the system is not working in their favor.
My participation in the Residency Program this semester has taught me about the history of Over-the-Rhine, the social justice movements that have taken shape there, how to organize people, along with much more. I have become more aware of how a system works and have learned ways to combat it.
During my time here, I saw the inside of a system, which was the culprit of blurring the lines between justice and empathy. It awoke me to see a greater problem than I thought it was in the education system, and once awake there is no going back to sleep. I will take the strategies and the lessons learned from this Program to be more prepared to fight for my students when the time comes.
Tess Sohngen (JRN)
One of the first lessons we learned in Over-the-Rhine was to smile and say hello to your neighbors. It was completely opposite from what I have been told when walking through a city or unfamiliar environment. The lesson was simple, and yet it opened so many doors to engage with community members. For me, I connected with some of the StreetVibes distributors because I would stop and talk to them on the sidewalk even when I was not purchasing a paper. When my mom came to visit and we were walking around the neighborhood, she said she was surprised by how many people I knew and said hello to, and this came from getting to know people at the Coalition for the Homeless in Cincinnati. At the Coalition in particular, I got to know some of the people running the front desk well and learn about their families and things they like.
I’ve lived in many communities before this, so I wouldn’t say that this community is the first real community I’ve lived in. But this particular community has definitely given me a new perspective of homelessness and a community’s responsibility to house them. On a personal level, this community has taught me that 1) I want to live in a community that has more diversity, particularly ethnic and religious diversity; 2) I want to live in a community that has more green space; 3) I want to live in a community where there is value in knowing and saying hello to your neighbors; and 4) I want to live in a community that makes me happy. Over-the-Rhine has shown me just how impactful your community is not only on your upbringing but also your mental and emotional health. If you are not in a community that you love and that suits you and a community that values you as a person, you are not going to be happy.
We came here to walk beside those who live here. Of course it is important to be able to walk in another person’s shoes because then you can see the perspective from which they come from, but it is also important to recognize and understand the perspective from your own shoes. What is my bias? What lens do I look through that changes my own perception of what’s happening in this community? I feel like my placement with the Coalition did a great job with helping me stand both in my shoes and my neighbor’s shoes. Both my neighbor’s voice and my own voice matter, and I am very grateful for that lesson the Coalition taught me. So when you say, “What did it feel like to ‘walk’ in another’s shoes?” you are forgetting that this reflection is not only about what we learned in this community but also how we interpreted it and how we grew in this community. This Residency Program is about students growing and learning about themselves as well as learning and growing with this community Not to sound self-centered, but this program needs to stress the balance between caring for oneself and caring for the community.
I have two major takeaways to share. The first I mentioned in the previous paragraph: recognize your own perspective and your neighbor’s perspective, and recognize that BOTH are important. The second would be the material we discussed in The American City Since 1940 class. Being able to read and discuss the structural fallacies in our system and then to see it play out in the community was an experience that you could not match from taking this class in Oxford.
There is so much about Over-the-Rhine to tell people about, and it gives me hope that so many friends and family I talk to seem eager to learn about it. I think the most important part is that people are being pushed out of their homes and out of their neighborhood, and that is wrong. Development is good, but development that displaces people and treats some as lesser is not development. It is perversion.
I now leave Over-the-Rhine with mixed feelings. There is much I won’t miss about Over-the-Rhine. I am thankful for all the lessons it taught me, but it is not the community for me. I will miss most, however, Hayley, Anna Lucia, Brooke, Maggie, Cassidy, Hunter, Tabatha, Catherine, Claire, Austin, Magda, Alexa, Emily, Jacquie, Corrine, and Madison.
Jacquie Lapple (EDT)
Throughout these four months, I have seen, felt, and experienced a different culture far from my own. Prior to this experience, I was hesitant about embracing the journey that was to come, and chose to arrive in fear rather than excitement.
Within the first month of living and student-teaching in Lower Price Hill, I heard and saw things that were not part of the “Miami norm”. My neighbors, who lived in front of our apartment, had completely trashed their house by throwing out old household items, clothes, shoes, and furniture into their backyard. Each morning, I would awake to a bigger and bigger mess building up in our neighbor’s backyard.
However, the moment I found out this was the house of one of my students, my perspective completely changed.
During this moment, I learned to listen and quiet my judgments before hearing the entire story. I learned that what we see on the outside is not the full story on the inside. My student, laughing, explained the reason behind the trash buildup. The reason was far less cynical than what I had imagined in my head.
After this enlightening experience, I started to find opportunities to connect with my school community. I enjoyed walking from our apartment and stepping across the street to the front of my school. All while several students would walk by, or even walk with me to school. I looked forward to watching the younger students attempt to play basketball outside, trying to get a few points in before the bell rang. I began to look at Lower Price Hill as a home, rather than a “crime-ridden” neighborhood displayed on all the tabloids.
As a student-teacher at Oyler for my designated placement, I utilized my Urban Teaching Cohort experiences, lectures from class, and journaling to truly embrace the power that my students radiated. I was able to identify the power within my students by watching them defy stereotypes thrown against them everyday, and doing so in a confident manner. I listened to how my students used tragic stories to motivate themselves for post-secondary life. As a future teacher, these challenging, yet rewarding months have strengthened my passion for urban education.
Aside from the overwhelming joy of working with such dedicated students, my largest takeaway would have to be the presence of family that seemed to embody the entire school and community. As an employee of the after-school program at Oyler, I witnessed first-hand the long history of families that encompass the school of Oyler. The volunteers, instructional aides, and even teachers have had a connection to Oyler for several years. They have invested their lives into this school and community, and it has been such an honor to watch this occur everyday. It has inspired me to do the same. Wherever I end up next year, I want to dive right in and carve out a piece of the community to truly develop and help change for the better.
For other students wishing to take part in this experience who may otherwise be hesitant, a piece of advice that I will offer is to simply say yes. This experience is necessary for the character-building aspect of improving our lives. Never again will I question or judge a person by the way they look or act, because what lies beneath is full of substance and life. It is our responsibility as young adults to experience different perspectives so that we are constantly evolving and becoming better versions of ourselves. Overall, this Residency Program is an opportunity to be a part of the true change-makers of our world.
In conclusion, as my student-teaching experience comes to an end in just three days, I will easily miss my vibrant, rambunctious, yet inspiring students the most. They have welcomed me into their world, and have made me a better person because of it. I have learned that vulnerability is the key to true relationship building, and the kind of relationships that last a lifetime. I may still struggle with teaching specific English content, or aligning my lessons with the common core; however, I have learned that the moments in between where you simply stop and say hello to a student are what make teaching a happy and fulfilling profession.
All in all, I am eternally grateful for “simply saying yes” to this program for it has prepared me for the future, and has made me excited for what is to come.
Hunter Taylor (SOC)
Looking back at my journal entry during the first full week in Over-the-Rhine I noticed that the entire prompt was inspired from the line, “Don’t worry too much what job you’ll have…” Ironic since that is what consumes my worries today. Going into this semester, I wanted to engage with people as much as possible, and take every opportunity I could. I wanted to find something I was good at and be the best intern at my placement. I guess going into this semester, all I was thinking about was myself. After two weeks of struggling, I realized that focusing on myself was not the point of me being here in Over-the- Rhine. The people gave me energy, the other interns at Crossroad got me excited every morning to work through the day, the spirit of my fellow residents inspired me on numerous occasions and I learned so much from all of them. The classes that I took this semester were classes that I could really engage in and wanted to learn more in. I felt like I had a voice and had to use it.
During my time at Crossroad Health Center, I had the opportunity to talk to many patients. Every day I made about fifteen phone calls, to check in on people, schedule appointments and find ways to assist them in their journey to become healthy or manage their disease. On many phone calls, patients would start talking and then end up somewhere completely off topic concerning something in their life. I had many conversations about displacement and people moving, even Crossroad has seen a shift in their population, with their west side office recently becoming swamped with patients. I can recall one specific conversation with a woman who had not been in for a while. She was in the process of moving, finding new schools for her children and figuring out where affordable daycares were located in the new neighborhood she was moving to. This conversation was two days after my Monday class, where we discussed childcare and transportation issues for working mothers. That is what this Program did. I would learn about a systemic injustice in class, then go to my placement and work with a patient who is experiencing the repercussions of that injustice.
My job at Crossroad increased my awareness of the injustices in the healthcare field and the need for healthcare professionals who are willing to work with people living in poverty. When scheduling appointments with specialists for patients, because they did not have a phone with ample minutes or the time in the day to hold at a doctor’s office, I would have to work through many barriers. Some offices would not accept the only healthcare affordable to our patients, some would schedule them months out, at times that wouldn’t work for the patient and others would take the insurance, but have copays not accessible to a patient. I could not believe this. Sometimes we would have patients with positive tests for colon cancer, that needed a colonoscopy to confirm, and all offices in Cincinnati would schedule the patients 4 to 5 months out, very crucial months. I know that many people are not aware of the issue of access when it comes to good healthcare, that in a developed country like the US, everyone receives equal treatment, but that is not the case.
Overall, I am thankful for my experience in Over-the- Rhine. Since the time that I decided to do this Program, I have struggled with explaining it to my friends and other students at Miami. There is no one-way to talk about the purpose of the Program and encompass all of the parts that are important. Over the semester, I learned how to talk about the neighborhood and program more, from my own experiences and from the experiences of others. In Over-the-Rhine, I got to live in the place I worked and attended classes. Everywhere I walked I knew someone, even though I only lived here for one semester. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to ask, “Are you one of the Miami students?” There is a strong community in Over-the- Rhine. I think that is what I will miss most. Being a part of a community, attending community council meetings and being friendly with people on the street are all things that I want in a neighborhood that I live in. I did not know that it was possible to have that in the city, or in a neighborhood facing displacement. However, when people care about where they live and want to come together to combat the issues they face, a strong community can be built.
Austin Hogans (ARC)
Living in the Over-the-Rhine played a huge role in how I was able to grasp and understand the concepts in my classes because the things I learned were happening around me. I was living a case study. I got involved in the community by volunteering at Children’s Creative Corner, and becoming an adult computer literacy tutor at the Over-the-Rhine Learning Center in buddy’s Place. With my volunteering and the requirements for me to attend at least five public meeting made my experience in Over- the-Rhine more valuable and made my education more well- rounded. I worked with people of all ages, of all walks of life, from people dealing with addiction to energetic children to people experiencing homelessness to developers in tight suits and the attorneys that defend them, my experience was enhanced and heightened as my awareness to why the issues we discuss in class are still present not in just Over-the-Rhine but everywhere in the nation. I valued the authenticity, the “realness” of the people I encountered. The community activists, and the people I would encounter regularly on the streets showed me what it truly means to be strong. Their will to endure and to persevere, to express oneself with no fear even when you have nothing, when you do not even have the support, when you are faced with constant rejection, is nothing but inspiring. I aspire to be as strong as the people in this community.
There are so many layers that still need to be unpacked. I struggled with accepting the fact that there is not a perfect answer to the issues we discussed. Why do people not have control over were they live? Over their own lives? I know what it’s like to feel like you have no control over your own life and it is the most mentally exhausting, stressful feeling ever, and people wonder why some look for unhealthy alternatives to take away the feeling of being powerless. We as a society are quick to judge and criminalize these people yet we do not want to explore or acknowledge the reason for why people are alcoholics and/or on drugs.
I knew that this career path, Architecture, can get political but I did not realize how involved it truly is. I found and explored the dark side of being an architect. The Liberty and Elm development was first introduced to me at the Historic Preservation meeting back in September. Our studio professor John Blake had us go with him to the meeting. From then on this development has followed many others and myself through this semester up until the final approval towards the end of this semester. Architects have a lot of control of people’s lives no matter the demographic; however, this Program has opened my eyes to how architects can negatively impact people. I’ve always had a positive naïve outlook on architects, I did not realize how much control they have in determining the types of people that are drawn to the environment that we, architects, design. Architects have control over shaping or reshaping an environment; it only makes sense for them to be in tune with the community of the environment, the site. However, that’s not the reality for most, we as architects and architecture students sometimes get stuck in our design world for so long that we forget about how the people of our site will be affected by design.
Although architects have control, they still lack it. In the Liberty and Elm Development, it was obvious that the architect was serving the wishes of his clients, the Source3 developers. I felt a little sympathy towards the architect because although the architect has some responsibility for the outcome this project, the Architect is just one of the many “minions” the developers have. The architect serves the developer since that’s the one that’s paying them. One of my takeaways from this experience was how you cannot separate politics from architecture, its very intertwined. Design environments can shape social and community context and allow for the emergence of respect, empathy, and relationship, they absolutely can and they do.
Architecture is not like art pieces made through 2-D or 3-D medium where it has more opportunity to express freely without constraints. Architecture has so many constraints because it has so much power in determining the identity of the environment that it is built on and I believe architecture should be valued and respected because of that. Architecture involves the attachment to politics, environmental sustainability, and education. Before this program I have always looked at Architecture from an artistic and sustainability point of view, now I look at it from a social justice point of view as well.
Claire Cawley (FSW)
I cannot think of a better way to spend my last semester at Miami University. Since freshman year I dreamt of doing this Program and an extra semester took me by surprise, which opened up a window. I saw an extra semester as such an upsetting thing but now this extra semester has turned into the most beneficial semester of college. This has been a wonderful transition into the real world and a great start into being a social worker.
I tend to focus on the social aspects of a community and looking back before this program I am dumbfounded in what I thought a community meant. This semester taught me that the community is made from the people. Places and spaces often change but the people stay or the memories of the people stay. Places and spaces may be an invitation or encouragement and even lack there of. It is the people that make things historic, not so much the place and space.
It has been frustrating to watch authority figures think otherwise, and I have found that when all the people of a community are discussed, there is always conflict. I did not know how long a fight could be. I have not seen people fight this exhaustive fight with so much passion and persistence. I have not seen this until this semester and this has been my most powerful takeaway. I learned how to fight for community this semester here, and as a social worker I think that is my main goal.
I have been shocked at the constant socializing I do on a daily basis. I think I am more used to having my own time apart from the day but I have grown to love it! At first I remember feeling exhausted by this and I selfishly wanted to get away.
This is so odd for me to say because I am extroverted and feel energy by others. I remember going to pick up a pizza after a tough week and I had to deal with so many people that I just wanted to lock myself away and eat. I have definitely adapted from this and have balanced my needs. Me time is so important but just a push for small conversation can be attitude changing and thought provoking.
I really think that I have been able to talk to everyone in this community and I feel comfortable in doing so. A city is not a scary place and those on the streets are not scary people. I have been unconsciously taught to be scared and I am so happy to learn the truth. My placement has helped me so much with this and I am very thankful to all the residents of Over-the- Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH).
In my placement at OTRCH I felt challenged but I felt very willing and excited for the challenge. I had never really had social worker role models in my life before now. I have worked with plenty of amazing social workers but with my work here I felt part of the squad and I felt like I was capable of the interactions and tasks. This placement really caused a career shift and explained casework to me so much more. It is difficult but it is very much needed in a community like this one.
My work at OTRCH has again placed the importance of a family unit for me. I know that I adore working with children and so Children’s Creative Corner was a blast and I always looked forward to it, but the family unit is so important. So many residents wanted to better his or her family and I really enjoyed seeing the changes in the entire family.
My first task on my own was that I had worked with a client to get a whole house of furniture through New Life Furniture. This was a very special task to take on and this client and I had a strong connection in going through this process. I had not heard from her the last few weeks of my internship but one morning I came into the office and she was there and I was so happy to see her again. She and I hugged and I was grateful for the encouragement and confidence that she gave me.
I was able to also give a smaller impact to many by being the facilitator of two Christmas gift programs. I was amazed at the amount of time and work that both programs took and I enjoyed the outreach to other organizations and the Salvation Army. I think it was a wonderful way to end the semester and organize gifts to over 140 children and have 8 families adopted for Christmas. I enjoyed this work so much and was able to still add my own twist on the organizing.
I try to tie all these ends together in closing this semester and I think that this semester showed me more about my passion for people. I love meeting people and listening to them and I love seeing people excited about something. This semester was full of people and I think sharing space with all these people made it more powerful than ever. People are the community, I love people, and so community engagement has been bliss.