After the remarkable 2012 academic year when the Center for Community Engagement and the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program received national recognition as a finalist for the C. Peter Magrath University/Community Engagement Award, sponsored by the North Central Review Committee for W.K. Kellogg, we didn’t think we could top that achievement. We were wrong, and are happy to announce that the John E. Fetzer Institute is awarding us with $45,000 to do multiple projects with our community partners in the effort to Reclaim History and Prepare the Future. Organizing walking tours, conducting oral histories, creating videos, holding exhibits, erecting artistic installations, and initiating a weekend residency program for professionals comprise just a partial list of what we hope to accomplish this year.
We are proud of Fetzer’s recognition of the Center and Residency Program because they see our deep-rooted work building relationships and trust as exemplary of their mission to support programs that “exhibit an openness to love, forgiveness, and compassion” as the basis of community-based initiatives.
Our success in securing the Fetzer funding is due in part to the successful accomplishments of those students in the eighth iteration (Fall 2013) of Miami’s University Over-the-Rhine Residency Program.
This year’s cohort consisted of majors from Teacher Education, the Western Program, International Studies, Family Studies and Social Work, Sociology, and Architecture and Interior Design. And for the first time, two students from Xavier University joined us as part of the cohort.
Lorita Shrider continued in her role as Resident Coordinator, a title that may sound administratively technical but is one of the more important roles of the whole Program. Through the Residency Program’s Facebook page that Lorita started, she kept students informed of community meetings and events. But most importantly she organized with the students the weekly community dinners that involve residents. Through a casual dinner setting students and their neighbors deepen relationships and understanding.
Jennifer Summers, newly-appointed Executive Director of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center continued to teach her course on Service-Learning. I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940. And in our third course, ARC/ENG 405Z Designing and Writing for Social Change, normally team-taught by Chris Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University, and myself, we were able to add Dr. Alice Skirtz to the teaching team. Like last year, students from Miami and NKU again worked collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership. But this year with the addition of Alice and her vast experience and knowledge of the social justice struggles in Over-the-Rhine, we were able to deepen our documentation of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement history. We were also able to read Alice’s new book, Econocide: Elimination of the Urban Poor, which convincingly argues how time and again, through legislation, ordinances, policies, rulings, and public and private decision-making, Cincinnati reconceives the poor as “economic others” and removes them (figuratively and literally) from the “social universe of obligation.”
Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, is the heart and soul of the whole Residency Program. She was involved in all aspects of the Program: the students’ initial orientation; historical neighborhood walks; supervising the service-learning experiences; and team-teaching classes. And as you will read below in the students’ reflections, Bonnie runs the weekly sessions for journal writing and reflection which are invaluable for the students as they bond as a group and with the community.
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the Center’s mission—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
As in Fall 2012, this year’s Design/Build studio, led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator, continued work at the storefront at 1400 Republic Street. It has taken a lot of effort to renovate this 750 square foot space. Last year’s floor structure design was successfully installed during the 2013 spring break and summer workshops. However, progressive leaning of the historic building required additional meetings with the structural engineer and mason. As a result, two framed interior “ribs” were added by this year’s cohort, attaching the exterior masonry walls to the floor and ceiling to stiffen the structure. The mason then rebuilt a significant portion of the south wall as we developed some design ideas for the inside.
Because the tenant was yet to be determined, the Design/Build studio concentrated on unobtrusive, subtle features for the space rather than doing a full “build-out” with finishes.
Common in Over-the-Rhine buildings, shallow brick arches were built in the floor as a fire-resistant means of supporting stone hearths. We found one of these in our storefront space. John was captivated by this shallow arch that resembled a boveda—an arched masonry ceiling laid without formwork. So the studio set out to build a simplified boveda between one of the structural ribs and the Republic Street façade—an area about 7 foot by 12.’ The studio was suspect of its ability to do a boveda in brick masonry, so undamaged sections of the original, old-growth pine floor joists were sliced and re-purposed as elongated, lightweight, wood “bricks.” Because of delays in the rebuilding of the façade masonry, the wood boveda was assembled off-site, to be installed later with interior finishes.
Other wood bricks were glued together to create a large butcher-block panel. Using a computer-programmed milling machine, the 1400 address was routed into the panel face. It will be mounted on the exterior beneath a storefront window.
Late in the semester, Design/Build students presented the concept for the 1400 Republic exterior improvements/renovation to the City of Cincinnati Historic Review Board, earning the certificate of appropriateness necessary to proceed with the work. Also, students coordinated an on-line campaign with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing to publicize the Pleasant Street Vision Study (see http://www.otrch.org/psvs.html). The publication of the Study marked a culmination of a two-year long community design process for an area north of Washington Park and south of Liberty Street.
In our Community Assistance practice, students worked at the Drop Inn Center, Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, Taft High School, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, English as a Second Language, Cincinnati Worker Center, St. Leo’s, the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, and Our Daily Bread. As always, many students volunteered with the Children’s Creative Corner, a two-night per week art program for youngsters. Four teacher education majors worked fulltime at Rothenberg, and one at Taft High School, all doing their student teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University. Kim Wachenheim of the College of Education, Health, and Society, and Tammy Schwartz, Director of the UTC, mentored these student teachers.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students working in different teams discovered a seemingly no lack of topics! Under Jenn Summers leadership at Peaslee, all the students conducted oral history interviews, significantly adding to the story-base of the People’s History. Also working with Peaslee, we were able to finish The Story Seldom Heard: A People’s Guidebook to the Washington Park Area, which is a walking tour documenting the many sites important to the People’s Movement in that part of Over-the-Rhine (http://arts.miamioh.edu.cce/engagement.html). A hearty thanks to Chris Buie, originally part of the 2012 cohort, for managing this project through to completion. Other students re-imaged and extended the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement History Timeline. Others produced a “zine,” composed of the students’ growing understanding of neighborhood issues. Some produced an alternative map of the so-called Gateway Quarter, this time showing the establishments and social service organizations not on the “official” map. Others wrote editorials for Streetvibes, the newspaper of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. And still others made a video that presents their experiences while living in Over-the-Rhine.
At this historical moment in Over-the-Rhine, characterized by great change and a marked contrast between wealth and poverty, one particularly strong ethic of the community poses a huge challenge to both the students and the faculty: “Seek out those most vulnerable and oppressed so that we may learn how to live.” This ethic runs all through the hearts and minds of social justice organizers in Over-the-Rhine and challenges Miami students and faculty to place compassion, forgiveness, and even love at the heart of what we do. It is a hard ethic to live up to. Because when taken seriously, deeply, it reveals how the language of “help” is not very helpful, because lurking behind such language are the colonialist assumptions that “to help is to fix.” What typically follows from this view is that Over-the-Rhine needs correcting, and that experts or outsiders or even newcomers already know what the community needs. In place of “help,” community people offer terms like assist, support, walk with, “and to see us for the gifts we are.” The point being, that by engaging community residents on their turf and in their terms, students learn, and by so doing they put themselves in a better position to develop a radical empathy and to make a difference—to assist that which is already in motion.
As you will read in the students’ reflections below, meeting the community’s challenge is one worth living.
Halley Novak (ARC)
People always say “ignorance is bliss,” but indifference is a very comfortable route to take in life also. I can’t say I arrived in Over-the-Rhine completely naïve, innocent, and ignorant to urban issues that affect cities like Cincinnati, but I can say I was apathetic—not interested or concerned, indifferent. Although my understanding of these issues broadened substantially over the past semester, I feel that the true gift of the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program actually lies in its ability to make indifference difficult. My time and experiences here have made it harder to separate myself physically, mentally, and emotionally from the realities of injustice and inequality. For this I am grateful.
My experiences and the relationships I have formed here make it challenging to see myself simply as an outsider or to detach myself from the problems Over-the-Rhine or neighborhoods like it face. I am moved to care about urban education when I hear my roommate talk passionately about her students or after getting to know the kids at Children’s Creative Corner. I consider my own education and question how and why these students must face barriers to learning that I never encountered. I am moved to care about the Drop Inn Center’s future when I know how it has helped neighbors I’ve grown close to. I am frustrated by the decision to move the shelter out of sight and out of mind and fear how it will exasperate the issue of homelessness. I am moved to care about affordable housing when I see how hard the staff at Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) work to secure a basic human right. A few weeks remodeling a commercial space with my peers allowed me to appreciate the years of tireless effort and dedication OTRCH has invested to create and maintain low-income housing. My education in social justice has moved beyond simply the classroom and into my everyday life. The issues became tangible and I find myself invested; I care about the outcomes and finding solutions.
A semester in Over-the-Rhine allowed me to realize I have the potential, through my future work as an architect, to impact the social issues I see affecting neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine. Learning about inequitable design decisions made over the course of OTR’s development and working in partnership with OTRCH allowed me to realize the responsibility I have to design in a way that serves all people. I have the power to make decisions that either add to problems of injustice and inequity, or if I choose, that relieve them. My hope is that through design I can create inclusive, not exclusive spaces. Moving forward I plan to seek career opportunities that allow me to design in this manner no matter what city or scale I am working in.
As I leave Over-the-Rhine I know I will remain invested in the issues we’ve explored over the semester. Indifference, although it is an easy mindset to have, will no longer suffice. I will strive to learn more about issues of social justice, to discuss these matters, and to share their importance with others. No matter where I end up, the faces and words of people I’ve met here will always be in the back of my brain inspiring me to care, to empathize, and to serve.
Manal Osman (INT)
Honestly, before learning of the Residency Program, I didn’t know a lot about Over-the-Rhine or what to expect from my semester there. My first few days were a blur of faces, names, places, and introductions. I didn’t really grasp my new environment until our first journaling session in buddy’s Place, where we were seated in a circle and told to share our stories by Bonnie Neumeier. A jarred candle was passed around to set the mood, we giggled as we sniffed it. I remember following the candle as it was passed to each person and thinking, “right, as if anybody would.” I was shocked at the stories I heard, unfiltered, funny, quirky, deep, raw, and intimate. When the candle was passed on to me I was too ashamed to speak anything but truths. The next jolt came after we’d all finished speaking and I heard my words thrown back into the circle. I walked away knowing that I was heard, my story recognized. I was on edge the next few weeks, uncomfortable with my new surroundings and purpose for the semester. I wasn’t sure if it was worth the risk of opening my mind and heart to strangers.
With each day those feelings faded, until I was making every possible effort to get the most of my time there, holding on to every memory and experience. I’m grateful for the time I spent in Over-the-Rhine. Every interaction, experience, conversation, and discussion was a lesson. I learned by stories. Stories from the community of themselves and OTR, stories of ignored American histories that left deep scars on every aspect of its society, stories of gentrification, of poverty, of culture, of race, class, and gender. With each lesson and story I became more accepting and open to my new home and neighbors.
I am grateful for many things, the most important being community. First, I’m grateful for the residents that welcomed us into the neighborhood. That sat, talked, laughed, ate, and looked out for us. Without them to guide us, we’d have no link to the people there. We’d be strangers looking in, making assumptions about the neighborhood. Our experience there would be lacking in many ways.
Secondly, I’m grateful for belonging to the cohort’s student community, from whom I learned as much as I did from living in the neighborhood and going to classes. Coming from different backgrounds, field of study and service sites, they all had their own perspectives and insights on Over-the-Rhine. Being around them reflected and intensified my experiences, feelings, and thoughts. It wasn’t about being surrounded by like-minded people but by ones with open minds. Interacting with them, sharing and hearing their frustrations, passions, hopes, and triumphs that would either echo and clash with mine further allowed me to question my beliefs and dig for the reasoning behind them. What I discovered, I didn’t always like, but helped me better understand and recognize the flaws within myself. I learned to question my surrounding, society, and perceived truths.
The lessons I’ll take with me from this semester are invaluable; they’re not what I would have gained had I stayed in Oxford. I’ve learned that there are multiple sides to every story and that the loudest ones aren’t always the most accurate. That you have to dig for the truth; and that it won’t always be the one staring you in the face. I learned empathy, how to listen and speak and question. I learned how to look and see people for who they are, how to share, how to smile, and how to give.
Jack Bowe (ARC)
What did I learn this semester? I had such a rich and complex semester, full of questions, explorations, frustration, and still more questions. I came with the expectation that things were not one-sided, that the story was complex and confusing, and that there were many things about which I knew little. I turned out to be correct; however, I did not understand just how complex Over-the-Rhine’s issues were.
I was grateful for my experience. Truly. I had been interested in living in a complex urban environment for some time now. Living in Over-the-Rhine has changed my views on so many facets of civilization. One huge insight that has complemented my time studying architecture is the construction of place. Place is what I have always believed to be the core aim of architectural design, because it is something that cannot be designed by one person. I have a new understanding in that space can impact place, but is not its master. The creation of place stems from histories, everyday greetings, struggles, flux, conflict, ideologies, and so much more. Place is where culture meets design. Place is the sum total of an area’s past, present, and future.
Creating or changing of place are relevant to everything I learned here this semester, in both my times of joy as well as frustration. The community’s embracement of myself along with the cohort made life so great. It was such a wonderful experience to actually be part of the community. There were conversely so many times where I felt that some things were hopeless or misunderstood by different sides of the community.
I can’t ultimately say that I stand for one thing over another. This semester has brought out insights within myself that I always knew were there, but never fully acknowledged. I now understand how polar of a person I am. I realized that I often wildly swing between socialism and libertarianism, helping others versus helping myself, cheering on change versus the preservation of what is here. Ultimately, I do believe that there is balance. Individual actions may make it seem polar, but things tend to work themselves out; however, it can only do so through understanding. The act of truly engaging, understanding, or becoming part of something can only be derived from the willingness to immerse oneself fully.
Through immersion we can understand. One can understand that a systematic look at the general picture must be boiled down to its components. I do not believe anyone in the area is basing their decisions off hurting others, but indeed there is a lack of understanding others’ needs and lives. The greatest lesson from my time living down here is that I have a hand in building place. You have a hand. Each and every person here has a hand. And it all comes down to single, miniscule choices. Did you say hello to the man passing by? Did you trust that he leads a life as deep and meaningful as your own? Could I buy lunch for the homeless? Would you argue for the need of affordable housing with your boss? Did you recycle? Each action has a profound impact.
So what did I learn? I learned there is hope—but I have to choose to be a part of it. Life is one; all of our lives are connected to one another. Hope and progress toward equality are fully within our capabilities. But life is complex. However, through understanding and interacting we can work past the complexity of money and power for equality.
Emily Donnell (ARC)
Out of my five and a half years at Miami I believe this semester has been the most influential to my learning experience. Although learning about these topics in class was informative and the discussions were always very thought-provoking, the experience would have been immensely different had I not lived here and worked within the community of Over-the-Rhine. The life lessons I gained from community service, renovating the studio site, and conversations with neighbors are more than what I ever expected out of this Program.
Although I have worked on teams in the past, this semester caused me to think about my role as a team member and how my strengths and weaknesses can be used for the good of the team. I learned that I didn’t know much about construction work at the beginning, and therefore, I must ask questions. I learned that in order to become a part of this community, I must sit down with people and really talk to them. Most of all, I learned not to judge a book by it’s cover (or what other people say about it). This experience was not at all what people told me it would be like, and I am so glad that it was different than what I expected.
This experience introduced a new way of thinking to me. I will always think about how my or others’ decisions affect a community, because there is always a ripple effect. I feel educated enough to go out and talk to others about the issues that have been going on in Over-the-Rhine, even if it makes people uncomfortable. While I am still uncertain as to what I want to do with my architecture degree, I know that I want to be on the side of social justice. After a semester like this, I think it is impossible not to go out and want to affect change.
I am grateful for the connections I have made here. I am grateful for the people on the street that I have shared smiles with, and neighbors that I see on a daily basis. I am grateful that we are living and working in this neighborhood, being able to call ourselves “residents.” I am thankful for the things I have learned in class, and the encouragement we have had to form our own opinions about these issues.
Along with the blessings of this place, there were also many challenges. I was very nervous to live here at first. Though the area still has some safety issues, they are not all I see now. Now I can safely call this place my home, and I see the good in Over-the-Rhine. I had trouble connecting to people on the street because I was afraid. I hope to take my new sense of openness to other places and share kindness to strangers as others have with me here. I struggled with the overwhelming issues we dealt with here and the fact that there is no concrete solution. I struggled physically with the studio workload. All in all, I know it is from the struggles that the greatest lessons are learned, and through those struggles I have been able to grow as a steward of my community, as a student, and as a friend.
What I hope to take with me from Over-the-Rhine is the sense of hope and relentlessness. Through every struggle and every victory with this place there is a strong sense of unity and community. I am so lucky to have been absorbed and welcomed into this community. I love it here!
Rachel Von Holle (EDT)
As I sit here reflecting on these past few months, so many memories rush through my mind. Mainly, day one of student teaching when I asked myself how will I ever get through these next four months? At the beginning, I questioned if this was right for me: urban teaching, surrounding myself with so much injustice, the weekly conversations with people who don’t just “get it.” Do I really want to become a teacher? All these thoughts I experienced multiple times throughout the semester, but now that I finished up my last day of student teaching, I can definitely say I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve realized that it’s okay to think about seeing yourself down a path you didn’t expect; in fact, I believe it’s better to keep an open mind about where one sees him or herself because new opportunities occur at unexpected times.
These past four months have been the toughest and most trying time of my life. My students are amazing, yet every day was a challenge. Teaching at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy and living in Over-the-Rhine opened my eyes to all the inequalities and injustices that exist; yet one never truly understands until one is immersed in the community. I love living in Over-the-Rhine—from the encounters I have made with people to the various sites the neighborhood has to offer to the stories written beneath the renovated building facades, all these experiences have made my life more meaningful. I become excited when I discuss the happenings in OTR to other people and feel proud to share its story. I have grown so much and opened not only my eyes, but my friends’ and family’s eyes to what Over-the-Rhine truly has to offer. I look at life differently; not only do I see people, but I listen to them; I absorb their words and believe that one of the most meaningful ways to learn is immersing yourself in something completely different than what you know.
I am incredibly grateful for having a loving and open minded family who didn’t fight me when I wanted to do this Program—they were on board from the beginning and have constantly asked questions about my experience and have visited me more than once. I am grateful for my students—they have taught me so much this semester. Not only did they help me become a better teacher, but they have made me laugh, smile, and cry knowing all they are capable of. I know they live difficult lives, yet I hope to have engaged them to believe in themselves that they can do it. Whatever this “it” might be, they can do it. I am grateful for having a wonderful support system—from 1324 Race, Apartment 1, from my friends back in Oxford, from my family. Everyone I’ve encountered this semester has touched my heart in some way, and I am grateful for them.
Leaving Over-the-Rhine to return to Oxford will be one of the most difficult adjustments I think I will ever have to make. They are two completely different worlds. I will miss the sense of community here in Over-the-Rhine; I will miss saying hi to almost everyone I pass on the street and getting warm responses; I will miss greeting my students with a smile everyday, even if they are dragging their feet angrily at 7:45 am. Returning to a world where people haven’t experienced what we have will be challenging. Having conversations with people about our experiences will be even more difficult, but I cannot allow that to let me not have them.
The stories, the people, and the community spark the flame to keep the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement ignited. My students’ laughter, accomplishments, and even frustration will always be with me. Whether this time I will be a first-year teacher or living in Nicaragua, or doing something completely different than what I have planned now, this experience has shaped me to become a better person. I will spread what I have learned here everywhere I go, and I will always remember to keep an open mind and an open heart.
Claire McMahon (Xavier)
I grew up knowing that I was in a good situation. I was loved by my parents and siblings, and by the community I was raised in. This semester I learned not how difficult it is to be loved, but how strong love can be. I realized the impact that small moments can have on a parent, and that parents do mean well towards their children. No one wants to see their children have to fight against poverty, addiction, stereotypes. But this is a reality that parents who have grown up in this cyclical environment of scarcity understand. They want their children to be prepared. The system did not help their parents when they were growing up. Their community helped raised them; the government employees only bore bad omens. These parents were never able to prove how hard they tried, how long they worked no matter how many jobs they worked concurrently. These parents, these people who are stuck in this hole of poverty work so hard to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, to create the American life of prosperity they were told by politicians, by officials, by the media, that they could get ahead. If only they worked harder. Why is it that no one recognizes this as a lie?
No one wants to ask for Section 8 housing or food stamps. No one wants to be a burden. But people need help. It is impossible to raise a family on minimum wage, even working seventy hours a week. How can media drum up the image of “welfare queens,” who supposedly surf all day and use their food stamps to buy sushi, when this is a miniscule minority of individuals? There will always be those who abuse the system, but the vast majority of individuals depend on it to survive. I learned this semester how many people live on the bare minimum, because that’s all they were allowed to achieve. It is not because they don’t have the abilities, but because they were never given the opportunities.
I have learned that most people do not understand poverty. Individuals who are well-off shy away from any discussion of the real problems that exist in the community of those beneath the poverty line, except during the holidays when it is acceptable to interact with the homeless and addicted. The acts of kindness the well-off show during these infrequent times are not because they wish to truly help those in need, but because it is considered by many churches to be an act of “kindness.”
I was convinced at the beginning of this semester that I would arrive at some kind of self-actualization through this Program, but now I wonder what path I will choose when I am gone. Will I continue to advocate and fight for political changes for those that have a burden to bear, or will I follow in the footsteps of many of my peers and others in political power and blatantly ignore the poverty that is imbued in this city. I realize that I was one of the people who ignored poverty because I was not presented with it, but now that I am aware of the issues my community face I do not think I can overlook my negligence.
I do hope to continue my advocacy of those who are in opposition to what America wants to represent itself globally as a thriving, stable, equal opportunity employer when I leave this Program, but it is a disparaging job. I am saddened to admit how defeating the reality is, because at times it does not seem like there is anyone willing to fight for those in need, and because of how deeply rooted the problem is in our society. Who wants to tell people that no matter how hard they work there are factors outside of their own control that will not allow them the same opportunities that I had as a white female in a middle-income family? That because the community I grew up in poured money into my school I was able to have smaller classes, newer textbooks, more supplies, extra time when I needed help, and effectively was given a more stable groundwork for the years ahead?
Over-the-Rhine has given me insight that I will not forget. It has introduced me to people that a few months ago I would have deliberately ignored. It has also given me hope knowing the individuals of this community because I recognize that if given the chance for reform they would fight for it with all their might. These people, these wonderful, beautiful people of Over-the-Rhine, are my reason to never go back to having an unquestioning belief in the media or being a passive citizen.
Jennifer Scheiderer (EDP)
As I sit here looking out the front window to Washington Park, I find myself thinking about all the times I spent there. Moments from a year and a half ago and moments from the past few months come rushing back. The Park offered moments of rest from a busy household and a challenging student-teaching experience. The Park also offered exciting chances to run into students outside of Rothenberg and to catch up with former Rothenberg students who attend Taft High School. As I look out this window, I see how this area has changed me.
I remember the time when I was having a rough day, seeing the direct challenges of poverty and invisibility that a family in the daycare was facing. I was sitting on a bench, crying, reading my Bible, and journaling when I hear children yelling, “Miss Jenn! Miss Jenn.” I turn around and see a family I have come to love from my time at the Children’s Creative Corner (CCC). They walked over to me and shower me with love and care. The youngest cousin asks me if I’m okay then immediately crawls up on my lap. Then, the older sister sits next to me and rests her head on my shoulder. Next, the older brother comforts me by saying everything will be okay,while, the little brother pulls on my hand and says “let’s play football!”
These memories are truly amazing; I hope to carry them everywhere I go. These memories have deeply impacted how I teach my students and how I view the community.
I am beginning to change—beginning to see how society erases the people of Over-the-Rhine from the picture. As I’m looking outside this window, I find myself asking how people can see the injustices occurring and keep living as if they never knew? How can people not care about those homeless and the poor? How can people not care about my students, or be unaffected by the fact that many of my students come to school not having eaten dinner the night before or breakfast that morning? When I am faced with all of these questions, I remind myself that there are people who care and who desire a better life for this community.
Just yesterday, some of my students and their parents were at my graduation party. Throughout the party two of my students were dancing around, rapping about how great a teacher I am, and going around and introducing themselves to my friends and family. At one point, my mom was sitting with their mom, and they began to tell me how our moms were talking. It was so interesting to me that sharing conversation and a meal together excited them so, but then I realized they rarely see people interact with their mom like that. It broke my heart but at the same time made me excited that they were aware of the barriers that are breaking down. After the party I drove the three of them home. On the way, their Mom, kept saying how much “they love you Miss Scheidner” to which the kids quickly corrected her on the pronunciation of my last name. At that moment, I was able to tell her to call me Jenn, and she responded with “yeah that’s what your mom kept calling you when we were talking.” Then, she said, “I’ll call you Miss Jenn.” Then she said, “they’re always talking about you, and they really love you.” I was thankful for her words, because I really love her children, and I thanked her for how wonderful her children are and for what a great mom she is.
I am extremely grateful for the women I lived with and how they have helped me see the world differently. The five us in apartment 1 are very different from one another and come from different backgrounds, but we have grown into a family. Through this semester we have had to lean on one another for support, whether from rough days at school or internship sites or rough situations each of us has personally battled.
These are the moments I treasure; the moments shaping me to be more mindful and trusting. I am thankful that I will not be saying goodbye to Over-the-Rhine. I will be living in the community and working at Rothenberg! I am grateful to have this opportunity and even more excited to not have to say goodbye to the wonderful people and families I have met over the last 3.5 years in OTR! I will surely miss the view from this window, and the daily flashbacks of memories that come from the view, but now is the time to create more memories!
Rachel Cantor (ARC)
I honestly didn’t know what I was getting into when I decided to do the Residency Program. I knew I wanted to have a different experience than I was having in Oxford and that this would be a great way to separate from my college life while starting to create a life in a community, but it was very abstract to me. I didn’t realize that the thinking process I thought was normal was going to be challenged in every way and I was going to be pushed to my limits. It was a physically and emotionally yet rewarding experience. I was forced to think about the way the world works and the way that I work. It was uncomfortable much of the time, but I have never felt stronger.
It was difficult to realize that I think much differently than my family, but I also feel like I can have an open conversation with them and push them to ask themselves why they think the way they do. Some of the ideas in class were surprisingly new and were challenging to grasp. I learned that not everyone has the tools to be successful in the world we live in. The “system” doesn’t work well for everyone and needs to change. It’s not that people are lazy or don’t care, like many people may think. There is no such thing as someone being better than another person. For some reason that was such a new concept for me, even though I felt it shouldn’t be.
The hardest thing to get over was my mindset that survival-of-the-fittest works; I realized I don’t like thinking this way. I still do to some extent, but I do understand why things are the way they are now and have become much more aware. I learned a lot about discussing serious issues. There are times not to find a common ground; it doesn’t create change when it is necessary. For some reason I always thought compromise was a good thing, but really it is not at all times. I also realized that “going up in life” doesn’t necessarily mean success. Finding your own strength and learning to use that are more important than measuring success and comparing yourself to others. This relates a lot to me in my family and has helped me to communicate with them about my goals in life.
I have realized that meeting the lifestyle of my family isn’t as important as finding a life that works for me. I have really attached to the statement made by Bonnie, that everyone has a gift that can be used to have purpose in the world. It’s just that some people need more help finding it and having the resources to pursue it. This is hard for some of my family to understand, but it important that they do. This was a huge step for me and I’m glad I had this time to start figuring these things out. I feel that there is much more for me to learn here and that this is just the beginning. I have more to take from this place, but there is much more that I could give once I figure some more stuff out about my life.
I learned that I enjoy design, but feel that education makes more sense for me. I have had some experience working with Rothenberg and really enjoyed it. I think it is more natural for me to make a difference by teaching than designing. Designing will still be important to my career in education; there is a way to combine them both. Last week I went to a 5th grade math class and helped them build scaled down famous buildings from Cincinnati out of ginger bread. I would like to teach, while using art and design, to provide another way for students to learn. I have decided to stay in Cincinnati and pursue education by volunteering and going to grad school here.
Will Cundiff (GEO)
How is it already December with snow on the ground? Time always just seems to pull the rug out from under my feet right as I start to feel more grounded in myself, but I guess that is just the nature of it. This semester arrived at an interesting time in my life, and with its struggles came tremendous victories and personal growth. The classes, the open discussions in class with my peers and professors, and the friendship I gained from my peers were absolutely everything a student could ask for in an academic environment.
However, the true beauty of this program was the opportunity I had to work with the guests at Our Daily Bread and the staff at Peaslee Center. Those interactions, although sometimes hard, was what made this semester so special and long-lasting. I developed my political thoughts and beliefs in an environment that was filled with people that embraced differences, which I think in turn softened my often cynical and sometimes narcissistic outlooks on life and the future. Yet, I cannot help but think that my biggest growth and learning experiences are yet to come: it will take time away from here to understand what I completely gathered.
I was born into a family that was lucky enough to have lived in other cultures and countries for most of my life. From a young age I was around diverse peoples living in London, and was able to visit different places across Africa and Asia. However, until living and learning in Over-the-Rhine, I really did not grasp how unbalanced and ingrained America’s war on urban areas and the people who live there was. I feel truly grateful to be where I am, but there have been times this semester where I have truly felt undeserving of my position in life. My struggles were just smoke and mirrors compared to many of those I worked, talked, and helped with at Our Daily Bread. Yet those struggles have given me the drive to make sure that I use my education and skills to better this planet, wherever I end up, possibly Over-the-Rhine, or another community under attack elsewhere in America.
There were times when I was not sure if I wanted to get out of bed, and make the walk down Race Street, across Liberty Street where I had been heckled at a few times by people on the street. I would fight through this, and with a confident walk and smile on my face, I soon began to meet neighborhood residents and friendly acquaintances.
As I stated before, my mind is still trying to process this experience along with all of the other sensory overloads I have in my life right now: graduation, the GRE, and what am I really looking to do with my brief life. My Over-the-Rhine experience will play a huge role in what I am calling an existential crisis ( an over-exaggeration). I want to take the feeling of community, openness, and gratefulness that I witnessed from my fellow classmates and experiences at my work sites and make it a part of me, forever. I see that America is in trouble as a society, but I keep seeing glimmers of hope all around, and I want to take these glimmers and fight back my negative, unoptimistic thoughts so that I can positively benefit those around me.
Rachel Sullivan (FSW)
From the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect when starting the Program. I was so excited when I received my email confirming I had been accepted into the Program but didn’t really know what that meant. Throughout these past several months I have evolved. I have learned that it is always better to speak up than to sit in the dark. Always make someone’s life important, and listen, care, and help in any way you can. Fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Interning at Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) has truly changed my way of thinking and “broken” me forever. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the most caring, hardworking individuals I’d ever hoped to meet. Working both directly and in the background for all of their residents I had the chance to meet remarkable people who had just hit a bump in the road of life. One woman who I will never forget, accomplished so much in her life but is now stuck, and Amy Silver, the social worker at OTRCH, has helped her begin to move forward in the face of lots of challenges. Through those challenges she clings to her faith and with faith you find hope. I have hope for this community and all of those within it.
More than ever I am grateful for all that I have, all that I can offer, and all of the privileges that I was born into as a middle class white female. My eyes are no longer blinded by the construct of society and the sheltered life I have lived. This semester has been an emotional awakening for me and has pushed me harder than I ever would’ve expected. As a Family Studies major many of my professors discuss the practice of ethics and establishing boundaries with your clients and personal life. This seems easy when discussing hypothetical situations and planning ways to create boundaries from your work and home. In real life, however, it is not easy and when working with someone on their life it becomes very emotional and taxing on both the clients and the social worker.
Throughout the semester I faced many ups and downs with the people I worked with and became frustrated, depressed, and even angry. I had a meltdown or two but was able to work through it with them and help realize that it can take so much from you, but also teach you and give you so much. It has challenged my ideals and those of my family. I have educated myself on the current issues and used my knowledge to persuade others, to fight the blinders many people walk around with.
As I graduate from Miami and move forward with my life I hope that I continue on this path. Overall I hope to be like the creative, beautiful, and amazing people I have met in Over- the-Rhine. I hope to come back and visit all of the residents I grew close with and to continue to sit on stoops and listen to stories, especially Mr. Earl. I hope to work on my writing and creativity that I was starting to warm up to in Bonnie’s journaling sessions. Most of all I hope that the people in this community hold on to their faith and hope and to continue to fight for their voices.
Candido Garcia (ARC)
In the last four months I have deepened my understanding of the social and economical inequality that plagues our society, as well as the consequential effect it has on how we view and treat other people. What I really came to appreciate is the understanding that I am a victim of the single story. Growing up we are all taught preconceived notions of who, how, and what certain people will do or think, and this thinking ultimately limits us from experiencing different cultures and keeps us prisoner to our own ideals.
The opportunities afforded me this semester have opened so many avenues for me. This semester has given me a standard to have for any neighborhood I may live in and to respect the people’s character, involvement, and stories. I also have a good understanding about the realities of housing and the option I have starting out as a mid- to low-income resident of Cincinnati. Living in Over-the-Rhine has increased the importance of involving oneself in the community and thinking critically about social norms that we all take for granted.
The importance the Residency Program places on social involvement is paramount. Community is a larger example of your immediate home and being a part of all the decisions made in that community helps create the home you desire. More and more the need for a tight-nit, united people is most important when standing up for the rights of their community. Over-the-Rhine is still a beautiful place to live because the people that have lived and breathed here for years are united, creating a rich environment that is inviting and warm; the sad thing is that not all people see it that way.
I am most grateful for the Over-the-Rhine community opening its arms and embracing a newcomer in a time when most newcomers take Over-the-Rhine for granted. The community people and stories I have accumulated will continue to give substance to the real Over-the-Rhine and its people. Through this I will always know how invaluable community is to keep a sense of family and peoples’ rights in Cincinnati.
What challenged me the most was understanding the struggle of the neighborhood. With all that has happened to them I initially found it hard to believe that so many injustices were brought onto the community. I also didn’t see a problem with new development because all historic buildings can’t be preserved. As the semester went on I began to see what the community sees on a daily basis, and from then on I was convinced that the people of Over-the-Rhine were no longer important in the City’s eyes—only the city’s agenda was important.
Leaving Over-the-Rhine I will take the infectious nature of the neighborhood with me everywhere I go. Being in this place has changed my perspective on how interacting and simply doing can change an unsuspecting person’s life.
Heather Allentuck (EDT)
In my classroom we say the word “perseverance.” I think it is ironic that the word of choice for my classroom is perseverance when already my fifth graders are the most resilient students that I have ever met. Many of my students face challenges outside of the classroom, whether it is a unstable home life, homelessness, or lack of food. Despite the odds being stacked against them, they still come to school craving an education, care for one another, and play like ten year olds should.
The neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine itself is a neighborhood that has persevered. Despite the history of the ghetto, despite gentrification, people continue to fight for the rights of the oppressed. Long-time residents and activists face constant challenges that could so easily result in them giving up, but they know that if they do, there are real people at stake, each with their own unique and valued story.
Living and student-teaching in Over-the-Rhine have coalesced into a semester of perseverance. There were so many days I wanted to come home and cry, whether it be from a student’s story, or not being able to reach a student. However, I will remember the smiles. I will remember the times when despite the difficulties, I extended an extra hand to reach out to a student, making them feel special and appreciated, and helped them succeed academically.
I have also learned how important it is to look for assets. So often when I tell people I teach in Over-the-Rhine I hear negative comments. They hear about Over-the-Rhine on the news, but have not taken time to learn about the people and the history. Over and again my students prove that they are the most caring, hard-working, passionate students I have ever met. When they find something of interest to them, whether it is musical instruments, architecture, or cooking they will wow you with what they do. I have found that the more we relate their lives to the classroom and the more care I show them the harder they work.
This semester has taught me to question. Due to the history of this country and this community, there are underlying social, economic, and political histories that act as barriers. However, because each person’s story is unique, each person’s perspective is different on every issue. I am challenged to try to understand each person’s perspective and continue to question my own.
I am determined to take the lessons learned from this experience with me. To question what I see, walk with and learn from others, and continue to be a teacher that builds meaningful relationships with my students, their families, and their communities. By living in the community where I teach and bringing the community into the classroom, my students were able to see the value of themselves and where they live, empowering them. I want every student to be able to receive the best quality education and be empowered to find their passions, and will persevere to work in communities to provide that education for my students.
Becky Seipel (Xavier)
For the past three years my typical middle class college life has been a blur of classes, meetings, and stress. Yet, in Over-the-Rhine I feel that I have learned to slow down and spend more time with others. This is because here I have learned the fine art of stoop sitting. Stoop sitting is the act of sitting on the stoop in front of your building for an undetermined amount of time and chatting to the neighbors who walk by. I was blessed to learn the art of stoop sitting by my neighbor, Mr. Earl. Mr. Earl has been a resident stoop sitter of OTR for thirty years. And since Mr. Earl worked at the Drop Inn Center for twenty years he knows everyone in the neighborhood. I met Mr. Earl sitting on his stoop on the first day I moved to Over-the-Rhine and we’ve been friends ever since. He and I have spent many an evening on his stoop meeting neighbors, sharing food, and chatting about Mr. Earl’s latest mystery novel.
Like most semesters, as the air became cold and the leaves changed colors, classes and work picked up and the stress set in. As October turned to November I found myself spending less time on the stoop and more time working alone. Mr. Earl noticed but it was our friend down the street that called me out on it. I had not seen Bugger, as he likes to call himself, in weeks when I spotted him on the stoop next door one day in November. We had a short chat about where he’d been and just when I was about to leave he asked me a question, “Do you have time for a story?” How could I possibly say no?, I thought to myself. Had I again become someone who would refuse the offer to listen to a story, an account of a friend’s experiences? This simple question awakened me to the slippery slope of self-centered worrying that I had already so easily fallen back into. I am pleased that I did not refuse the offer.
This semester has taught me the value of listening to others. I come from a very different background than many of my neighbors. To be honest, I was nervous about this social difference when I arrived in Over-the-Rhine. But with time and personal connections like Mr. Earl and Bugger I have learned to embrace difference. I no longer fear the stranger but embrace her. I hope to take this newfound love of diverse relationships as I move forward.
A friend in Xavier’s Center for Faith and Justice recently directed me to a book of poems written by Murray Bodo, a Franciscan priest who lived in Over-the-Rhine in the 1970s. Reflecting on his own struggle of how to spend time Bodo writes: “I am…more convinced that we all should ‘waste’ time on being who we are; for it is only when we are ourselves, that we contribute anything to others.” Over 40 years later, Over-the-Rhine has taught Bodo and I the same lesson: that we should spend less time worrying and ‘waste’ more time being. While Bodo does not identify stoop sitting as an act of being, I am convinced that that is exactly what he means.
Brandon Wood (SOC)
This semester has provided me with far more than I could have expected. At first, I was very apprehensive about coming to Over-the-Rhine. My negative thoughts on the neighborhood stemmed from the already overloaded media influence about it being “a bad place.” I have never been one to allow the first impression to dictate things, so I took the chance to come and see for myself. I’m very glad to have made that decision. I feel I’ve grown as a person, even more so than I already had in my previous life experiences.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have been here. The people I met during my time here in Over-the-Rhine are those I will never forget. From my fellow students, who never failed at one point or another to make me laugh, to the multiple instructors and liaisons that worked their hardest to make us successful, I am grateful. I am also very fortunate during my service-learning time to have met several of the residents at the Drop Inn Center. From my life thus far, I have found that the people you encounter will go with you for the rest of your days.
I found many challenges during my time here. It was difficult at certain points for me to relate to people that I encountered because I was not from the area. Not understanding the nuances of daily life, or social protocols, made some encounters difficult for me at first. It was only after getting out, talking to people, and seeing the neighborhood that some of these issues became easier. I also found it difficult persevering through being separated from my wife and children. Visits on the weekend were few, and I was saddened by this a lot. The people in the Program with me helped me have a more positive outlook about this, and I am grateful for that as well.
My experience this semester impacted my life greatly. I learned at first I was a bit judgmental. I had not given any thought to the hows or whys of people I encountered, and the situations they were in. I simply took what I saw at first, and ran with it. I am unashamed to say that this was wrong, and I have learned that people aren’t always in a situation due to their choices. There are times when it’s just life, and they are doing the best they can with what they have. It’s that perseverance that I hope to take with me from this semester. I saw a clear example of it each and every day I went to the Drop Inn Center. Mr. Mohammad, a resident, was someone that impacted my life the most during my time here. I would pray that I could take just a small amount of the positive energy and perseverance away from this, which he possesses. Every day I saw him, without fail, he smiled. Even with the bad hunch in his back due to Osteoporosis, or the Arthritis in many of his joints, he smiled. Even when he had been turned down multiple times for assisted housing, he smiled. Even when the food was bad at the Center, he smiled. I cannot thank him enough for this lesson he’s taught me, that no matter what’s going on, you can always smile and make it through. As a footnote, he eventually found housing, and now is in a place of his own.
So all I can say, to everyone involved in this program, is thank you. I will remember this experience for the rest of my life. I can honestly say, I am proud to know each person I met, and I am grateful for each experience I had.
Anna Hartman (EDT)
Three years in the Urban Teaching Cohort (UTC). Three years of urban plunges, three years of seminars and rich discussions about urban issues, three years of tremendous growth in my heart. Coming into this semester, I thought I really got it. Dare I say I cockily thought to myself, “Oh, I understand all this. This will be a semester about living what I already know.” I wasn’t expecting for my heart to be as changed as it was. I wasn’t expecting to be so humbled.
I grew so much this semester. For example, I was so frustrated when I moved into our apartment. I wrote in my journal that first week we moved in that I was ashamed to feel more deserving than our housing. I felt I was above the writing on the walls, the cracked fireplaces, and the chipped paint. I deserved more than greased-stained kitchen walls and the tiny sleeping quarters. I was so ashamed to notice that I was still feeling like I was above the people of Over-the-Rhine, something that I thought was long gone after three years of the UTC.
When students came over to our house, their first comment is that our house is huge. One little boy knocking at the front door said, “Hey! Doesn’t Ms. Von Holle live here?” Then he exclaimed, “Dang! How many people live here?!” The family from school that came over for a community dinner commented, “And there are only five people that live in this huge apartment?” My students and people in the community look at our house and think it is on the large size, but in the beginning of the semester, I couldn’t stop thinking how small it was for all of us.
I was blessed to be invited into the apartment of one of my students. The building had holes in the floor leading up to their apartment. The windows in the stairwell had no glass covering them. Their apartment was filthy. I saw a roach on the floor. Very, very little furniture was in the house. The oven was cranked up high and left open to heat the apartment.
After these experiences, I was so humbled. I realized how false it was to think that my apartment wasn’t good enough for me, but somehow, smaller, and significantly worse apartments were acceptable for my students to live in.
From these situations, and others like them, one of my greatest take-aways from this semester is that there is still so much work to be done in my heart. Cultivating a open, humble, and non-judgmental heart is going to be quite a process – a lifelong, beautiful journey on which I am still, and will always be traveling.
Erika Strong (WST)
It’s crazy to think this semester is finally coming to a close. I had so many ideas of how my life would change at the end of this semester; however, none of them can capture fully the tremendous growth and change I experienced. In just weeks, I transformed and learned more than I ever imagined; and for that, I am grateful. This semester I was privileged to have the opportunity to sit and listen to people, from all walks of life, share their stories. Whether I was in class, sitting on the stoop, eating dinner with my roommates, or conducting interviews at Peaslee, I was continuously listening. During that listening I gained a deeper love and understanding of the power that can come from a story.
This Program, along with interning at Peaslee, gave me the chance to listen to people share their stories. It gave me the opportunity to be in the moment, completely focused and absorbed, listening to what another human being had to say. During the interviews I conducted, along with all the interviews I watched on video, I was honored to hear the amazing network and bonds that have been created here. Although I may have not met every individual that had been interviewed, by watching them I grew to love each one of them.
If I had to choose one thing to take with me from my Over-the-Rhine experience it would be the stories. This semester working on the oral history project at Peaslee gave me the chance to learn the power of stories and hence the need to preserve them. Listening to other’s stories taught me that within each and every individual there is a beautiful uniqueness that sets us all apart. Inside ourselves we all hold a lifetime of experiences, sticky situations, monumental achievements, epic wins, and embarrassing losses; however, it is important to embrace them all, the good times and the bad. This semester I realized that stories help root a community. As Miss June said in her interview, “There is no one! It is all of us together that are the unsung heroes of Over-the-Rhine. It is all of our stories together that make this community thrive.” Stories help not only define a community, but also help us define ourselves as human beings.
This semester gave me the opportunity to respect and embrace my own. Living in Over-the-Rhine has taught me how to define my own story; learning to embrace my past and find the beauty in my own struggle. The power of stories has brought healing in my life. It was truly an honor participating in this Program and I will never forget all the memories, friendships, and bonds I have made here. Over-the-Rhine will forever have a special place in my heart.
Meili Price (ARC)
When I came to Over-the-Rhine, I was looking for a life-changing experience that would alter my course. I was looking for a push that would move the idea of serving others from an intellectual ideal to reality. I was looking for an opportunity to better understand why design matters and what it could mean to be a socially conscious architect. I arrived armed with all these expectations about what I thought I would learn and how we would learn them.
Before my time in Over-the-Rhine, I never questioned why the world works the way it does. I assumed that government, the market, and development would always operate for the greatest good. Topics like homelessness, joblessness, gentrification, living wage, and affordable health care were all disconnected issues that didn’t really affect my life. Justice was an abstract term for something that happened in the movies when the bad guy gets arrested or the villain is foiled. I was deeply apathetic to the implications of policy, politics, and law. Apathy was easier than caring, because to care meant shouldering the sorrow of so many wrongs in the world. I couldn’t have known back then how much I would come to grow and learn.
I remember moving into our building, struggling to carry my boxes up four flights of stairs in the August heat. Street people—neighborhood people—offered to help, which was strange and nice and felt somehow dangerous. I roamed the neighborhood in those early days, kept to myself, and wondered how I could avoid these people.
I remember our first journaling circle, shoulder-to-shoulder in the intern house living room. Bonnie lit the candle, read us a poem and told us that discovering our own story was the key to understanding this new place. I was skeptical that scribbling about tools or fruit could help me process anything.
I remember the sweat and grime of work at our Design/Build site. We used our hands by day, then our minds in class by night. Long discussions with teachers, peers, and community people challenged deep-rooted beliefs. What do people need to survive? What are basic human rights? Who benefits in society and who doesn’t? What are the roles and responsibilities of government?
In all these places over four months, we interns built relationships, heard stories, studied issues, and processed this experience together. My own story and memories whispered to me. I realized I was effected by injustice like these neighborhood people. I realized I walk the tightrope of being trapped in poverty like my family and privileged into success because of my race and education. I realized love is dealt in action.
I repeat the Lilla Watson quote often: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” There is fear and misunderstanding at the root of many social issues. If we only learn to empathize with people who are different and try to understand them as we understand ourselves, valuable progress will be made.
The great challenges of our society are intertwined and there aren’t easy answers to solve the injustice that happens all around us. But when we open our eyes and listen to the troubles of our neighbors, we soon realize that we have much in common. We recognize the burdens of the least actually affect us all and that working together, we can better society for everyone. No matter a person’s class, race, gender, background, successes or mistakes, we are all valuable citizens that deserve to live.
I’ve finally woken up. When I do eventually leave this place, I’ll bring a newly built worldview with me. Through my experiences and relationships in this neighborhood, I see a world that desperately needs each person to be a critical citizen. I see that we all need to engage in our communities and understand that our choices affect other people. The world is shaped by action, not by “that’s just the way it is.