In an Over-the-Rhine that is changing rapidly, “What is the story you find yourself telling most about Over-the-Rhine?” became the compelling question for those students in the seventh iteration of Miami’s University Over-the-Rhine Residency Program (Fall 2012) through Miami University’s Center For Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine.
This year’s cohort represented majors from Teacher Education, the Western Program, Sociology, Speech Pathology and Audiology, and Architecture and Interior Design.
A new addition this year in the role of Resident Coordinator was Lorita Shrider, an alumna of the Residency Program in fall 2009 who has kept in close contact with the neighborhood since that time. She coordinated weekly community dinners with students and residents, which became important venues for students to learn more deeply about their neighbors and the community. Lorita also managed the Residency Program’s Facebook page and kept students informed weekly of community events to attend.
Like last year, Jennifer Summers, Community Education Coordinator at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center and a former resident of Over-the-Rhine, again taught her course on Service- Learning. I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940. And lastly, Chris Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University and I co-taught the course we did last year, ARC/ENG 405Z Designing/Writing for Social Change. Students from Miami and NKU again worked collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership.
Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, as she has since the start of the Residency Program, held invaluable weekly sessions for journal writing and reflection. She was involved in all aspects of the program, from the students’ initial orientation; to historical walks in the neighborhood; to supervising the service-learning experiences; to team-teaching classes.
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the Center’s mission—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
The architectural Design/Build studio, led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator, worked at 1400 Republic Street on a bricked-up storefront owned by Over-the- Rhine Community Housing. Their charge was to re-envision and renovate the retail space. But what awaited the students was a space containing decades of signage, publications, videos, and objects that document over 40 years of campaigns of the Over- the-Rhine People’s Movement. Working closely with Bonnie, students assumed the role of depositaries and conservators rather than laborers. They sifted through the space to separate documents and preserve and photograph protest signs while sending several truckloads of cardboard and items to the recycling facility or reuse store. After relocating the Peoples’ Movement items to an archive space, students began a structural investigation of 1400 Republic. Meetings with masons, building restoration experts, and structural engineering consultants helped to define the scope of work.
Students worked with the structural engineer to specify a means of stabilizing the building. This included building temporary shoring to support the gas lines and a new structural floor system with concrete footings, yoked steel columns and LVL beams to carry the new floor joists. The cohort interviewed the non-profit project manager, reviewed code constraints, and assembled a detailed permit drawing set. Then they dug the footings in the dirt basement floor by hand, transported concrete from the truck chute to the footings by wheelbarrow, and detailed the steel column for fabrication by a welder. Their design and preliminary repair work will be advanced during the 2013 spring break and summer design/build workshop, when the storefront will be re-opened and ready for tenant build-out.
In our Community Assistance work, students worked at Venice on Vine, Wesley Chapel Mission Center, Elementz, the Drop Inn Center, Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. As always, many students volunteered with the Children’s Creative Corner, a two- night per week art program for youngsters. The three teacher education majors worked fulltime at Rothenberg doing their required student teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University. Tammy Schwartz of the School of Education, Health, and Society, and Director of the UTC, once again as part of the administrative team mentored these student teachers.
In our Community Advocacy work, students working in different teams engaged a variety of topics. Some students analyzed the messages associated with social media sites pertaining to Over-the-Rhine. Others advanced the publication of a Washington Park area walking tour that documents the many sites important to the People’s Movement. And still others made avideo that analyzes the experiences they lived in Over-the-Rhine (http://arts.miamioh.edu/cce/videos.html#).
This past year was rather remarkable for the Center for Community Engagement and the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program. In May of 2012, the North Central Review Committee for the W.K. Kellogg Outreach Scholarship Award selected the Residency Program as a finalist for the C. Peter Magrath University/Community Engagement Award. This entailed three duties. First, over the summer of 2012, we worked closely with “video documentarist” Barbara Wolf to make a “2-minute” video of the Residency Program’s work (http://arts.miamoh.edu/cce/videos.html#). Barbara has deep ties to the People’s Movement and has made many videos documenting its struggles and successes. Her history and expertise were indispensable for us. After interviewing many students and neighborhood organizers, she helped us pare down the voluminous transcripts and crafted a video that captures our mission.
Armed with our video, our second duty was to head to the University of Alabama to participate in the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (October 2012). There we made a precise 15 minute presentation in front of a panel of judges made up mostly of presidents of universities. The presenting team included myself, Bonnie Neumeier, Josh Spring, director of the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, Amy Silver, social worker at Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and an alum of the Residency Program in 2007, and Michael Flood, a long-term resident of Over-the-Rhine and former construction manager at ReSTOC.
Our presentation propelled us towards our third duty to attend the annual, national meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), held in Denver in November.
Here our video was shown (along with the three other finalists) at a luncheon plenary of roughly 1,000 people. While we did not win the award, we were gratified to learn from the judges that the Over- the-Rhine Residency Program was definitely in the running for the top spot (http://www.miami.muohio.edu/news/article/view/17980).
At this moment in time, two narratives in Cincinnati vie for attention in framing Over-the-Rhine.
The first, the narrative of Poverty, has a long history and still holds a powerful sway in how people think of the neighborhood. Highlighted through this narrative is the usual recipe of pathology: crime, drugs, “black-on-black violence,” homelessness, backed by commonly heard sayings such as “you better roll up your windows and lock your doors if you’re going to drive through that neighborhood.” Through this narrative, Over-the-Rhine is wildly out of control, where “no one in their right mind would live if they could afford to move.”
The second narrative, which is emerging quickly and trying to reorient the public’s mind about Over-the-Rhine, is called the “Renaissance” or “Rebirth.” In this narrative, economic
and business development are spun as the heroes in “saving” a dying community. Peppered by such terms as upscale condos, restaurants, and boutiques, “mixed-income development” and “economic mix,” Renaissance blithely assumes that upscale development automatically meets the needs of all incomes.
There is a third narrative. And it is completely missed by the first two. This narrative is the fact that truly heroic efforts have built life and addressed desperate social need in Over-the- Rhine over the last 35 – 40 years, represented significantly by the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement (grassroots organizations dedicated to human rights and social justice). That the People’s Movement continues to succeed today, within political-economic circumstances that counter it at almost every turn, is remarkable. It is the people and organizations of this third narrative that the students find, and through developing deep relationships with them, they come to penetrate the erasing tendencies of the narratives of poverty and renaissance to actually see the community that is fully there in Over-the-Rhine.
As you will read in the students’ reflections below, this is the story worth telling.
Alexa Yoon (ARC)
My tattered, dirtied work gloves lay dusted with sawdust and scraps of lumber on the wooden table at our work site. The protective rubber coating on their palms is worn and smooth to the touch, and a small glow of pride rises in my stomach when I feel it and marvel at how it became this way. My gloves represent my experience in Over-the-Rhine so well that I contemplate on keeping them with me just to remind myself what it was like to have my prejudices and misconceptions become beaten and frayed just like them. I doubt I will ever forget my time here or the lessons learned while walking the streets. I doubt I will forget the grin on Andrew’s face through the center’s window during studio when he walked by almost every day. I doubt I will forget the sound of Josh’s firm voice through the megaphone during a rally on a cold, rainy afternoon. I doubt I will ever forget what it means to be a part of a group so often downtrodden and neglected by others, yet still fights to provide support for anyone who needs it.
I am an outsider who got to catch a glimpse of a small group of people battle for rights and privileges that I have enjoyed my whole life even before I became a citizen: a good home, a family, an education, good health, and protection. I am an outsider who got to see that their fight is not an easy one— often times they are forced to compromise for lesser demands. Their fight is neglected—how long have they asked for equitable development? However, their fight is also an example of courage. It represents goodness and compassion, which I believe have long since been buried under the ideals of individualism and power. Their fight is persistence and adaptation. It is complicated, messy, and long, but to me these are aspects of democracy that are not exercised enough by citizens. When they are not heard, they speak louder. When they are ignored, they march until they are seen. When they are pushed, they push back harder. As small as this Over-the-Rhine community is, its essence speaks volumes of truth, justice, and belief in the goodness of human beings.
It is not to say that I no longer struggle daily, hourly even, with the notions of poverty, the existence of an “underclass,” and stereotypes. I sometimes despair at the thought of the people whom I met through this program no longer being here to greet me with their warm smiles when I return again. I am often disappointed at people who do not understand the flipside of the current development. Other times, I feel helpless that there is nothing tangible I can do. However, I keep myself going with the faith that goodness will eventually prevail. I will continue to have confidence in the people who have carried this mission upon their shoulders for decades. Each person I have met here will remain with me just like the image of my ragged gloves because they pushed me to put my hands on building community alongside their efforts. As teachers of life, they have taught me lessons that have molded my heart and my consciousness, and I hope that I too have left my own mark here in my own way.
Beth Schwerman (ARC)
There I was, my first night in Over the Rhine, trying to sleep before the neighborhood orientation started the next morning. I could not sleep for the longest time; being excited for events to come, a rattling noise that I couldn’t quite make out its source, and traffic right outside our building. I came here to experience elements and situations I would have never encountered at home or in Oxford. Who knows what would happen.
Thankfully my time down here was well worth that first night of no sleep.
The residents in Over-the-Rhine who have lived here for years, some even decades, know their neighbors, say hello when you pass, and care about each other, something I’ve never had the privilege to experience before. My experience here opened my eyes to how strong these people are and how strong they need to be. Learning about gentrification in Over-the- Rhine saddens me, makes me want to fight harder to change the way our world currently works.
This eye-opening experience changed the way I look at the world and at my future. I also came to Over-the-Rhine because we would be rehabilitating a building. I love watching as buildings became magically transformed into wonderful living spaces. After this semester I will think twice about the motivations for projects like these. Yes, these magnificent buildings should be preserved and saved for future generations, but is the cost we are currently inflicting worth it? This semester didn’t change my mind on wanting to help preserve these buildings or transform them into useful spaces, but it opened my eyes to how far we need to go to do these things and keep a clean conscience.
My experiences weren’t the only things making me think, the classes broadened the scope and made us think even more about every aspect of Over-the-Rhine and inner cities across the globe. We looked at urban education, healthcare, childcare, affordable housing, homelessness, and so much more. We looked at how to make the concerns about these problems known and getting people to seriously look at these topics as well. Finally we examined how we got to this point, what options have been tried, and began to think about how we can change the way things are.
Over-the-Rhine opens your eyes to the good and the bad, and helps you analyze them and why you should choose one or the other. Here you look deeply into the way things work and how they got that way. You leave here still unsure about a lot of things because there is always more to look into and discover. Putting this experience into words does not do it justice. I know it’s a cliché, but you almost have to be here to understand everything. It would be hard to go through this immersion experience and not come out changed, questioning the world.
Yes that first night of sleeplessness was well worth it, because now I see the world in a different light, a better light able to see the details.
Mamie Hobbs (EDT)
When I think back to my first few days in Over-the-Rhine, I don’t recognize the person that attended orientation weekend, moved in to the house, and cried herself to sleep. This semester was life-changing. I was finally forced to live outside myself while my eyes were opened to a new world. Daily, I saw the injustices occurring not only in this city, but also around the world. My brain feels like it expanded twice its original size due to the constant streaming of new information and perspectives at buddy’s Place, on the street, and in the classroom.
The root of this change within myself came from the 24 beautiful children with which I spent each day. For the first time in my life, I was living truly for someone other than myself. Their laughter, anger, and determination forced me out of bed each morning, excited to get to school. I hope my students look back on this semester having left a fingerprint on their heart, however, I look back at my experience having 24 handprints covering mine.
My time spent in the classroom wasn’t all inspiring and successful. There were moments of fear, discouragement, and hopelessness. This was counteracted by the pointlessness of those thoughts. My ongoing interactions with my students constantly broke down my wall of fear and opened my eyes to fight for them, just like they were fighting for me. Relationships and trust built with the students were my greatest challenge and greatest victory. These relationships drove everything I did in a given school day. In the beginning, as I struggled to manage the classroom, I discovered that rapport with my kids outweighed any standard or assessment.
Through these relationships I was able to get to know my students on a much deeper level. I was beginning to understand the importance of living in the community in which you teach. Since I lived in their neighborhood, I had the ability to spend time with them outside of school—attending extracurricular events or just seeing them in the park. Having the capability of doing these things by living in the community in which I taught positively impacted my ability to create a classroom environment of mutual trust and understanding.
As I look back on the semester, I gained as a teacher but more importantly as a human being, more than I can put into words. The deep-seeded structures of our country can only be broken down if people begin to see the injustices and stand up for change. I cannot be one of those people on the sidelines.
Kristina Phillips (ARC)
Before coming to Over-the-Rhine I wasn’t really sure about the neighborhood because I had heard only extreme and opposing views. On one hand, I heard many comments portraying Over- the-Rhine as a bad place ridden with crime, drugs, and neglected buildings with good bones that needed to be saved. On the other hand were friends who had gone through the program before me, and their views were radically different.
Hearing some of the previous students talk about Over-the- Rhine spiked my curiosity to see for myself exactly what was going on with this neighborhood. The previous students were excited about their involvement in Over-the-Rhine and talked about how their experiences had changed their views or given them a deeper understanding on urban environments. They also talked about how their friendly neighbors impacted their lives and how awesome it was to get tangible experiences in their chosen profession. While I thought I was learning much in my Oxford classes about issues of urban development, poverty, homelessness, and welfare, I still felt lacking due to my lack of personal experience. I needed to see these things first-hand.
My classes in Over-the-Rhine had a huge impact in helping me understand why things are the way that they are by digging into the foundations of politics, social issues, and economics. I felt that I had a good understanding of different cultures and social structures since I had been fortunate to travel quite a bit and come from a large family with diverse backgrounds from literally all over the globe. However, my understanding of the technicalities of politics, economics, and social structures was rather vague. These classes became so beneficial to me. The conversations and lessons I learned were relevant towards what I was encountering everyday during my experience in Over-the-Rhine.
In the midst of unpacking all those things that were shocking and sometimes disheartening or devastating, I also began to see a theme of how resilient the people of Over-the- Rhine were in getting through their obstacles and fighting for what they believed in. It was apparent since the first week that regardless of their circumstance many residents maintained their ability to smile and be generous towards others. They remembered that while it was important to continue to fight for their needs and for their voices to be heard, it was even more imperative to stop and celebrate both large and small victories as well as appreciate what they already had. This made me wonder why it is so hard for those who are in the middle or upper classes to just smile and acknowledge the presence of another human being. While many of the residents weren’t rich economically they were rich with love and culture which is something I feel too many tend to underestimate and miss.
Seeing that the residents maintain their thankfulness and friendliness throughout the semester was one of the priceless lessons I learned from the residents of Over-the-Rhine.
After going through this experience I am definitely happy I followed my gut to do this program in my last semester of college. I have learned it is important that I read between the lines and do more research before coming to conclusions. Even though reality can be challenging, messy, and unfavorable I need to take time out to reflect and appreciate the positives. I have also learned that while I may not be able to do everything, it is important that I continue to be myself and do what I can do. There is value in individuality and as colors on a canvas, when each one of us comes together bringing our individual uniqueness we can create a bigger and more beautiful outcome. I am grateful for this experience and realize that while it would have been easy for me to spend my last semester at Miami University in my comfort zone, it was more impactful for me to use the skills I gained in the past four years and continue to challenge myself in an unconventional way. I am certain that my experiences and the lessons I have learned will stick with me wherever I go.
Jessica Daniels (SOC)
This experience enabled me to engage in the cultural and structural forces that impact certain geographical areas. Through examining race, class, culture, and gender I was able to ask questions and see how these aspects shape and form communities. We looked at the idea of an “American city” and saw its transformation. We were able to correlate the issues of suburbanization, urban renewal, and cultural separation with the new development in Over-the-Rhine. It was interesting to see the realities of gentrification, displacement, and segregation through a cultural and sociological lens.
I had the privilege of witnessing history, mostly oral history. Through personal testimonies I heard numerous accounts of the whereabouts of Over-the-Rhine. Bonnie Neumeier was a perfect example of a walking history. Her accounts were so specific, intimate, and very authentic. In addition, Alice Skirtz was able to give us a more academic history about Cincinnati. These two painted a vivid picture of the area to make you understand it differently. Their knowledge was valuable. I also had the privilege to talk to other community members such as parents and children. Those parents and children gave great insight. Parents expressed their concern on the longevity of the current changes. They don’t mind the change but just want to be respected and not removed from their homes. Children share their experiences on their exposure to their harsh realities but still maintain optimism.
With the academic knowledge and personal experience from living in Over-the-Rhine I have gained valuable insight into cultural and public life. There are so many different subcultures in Over-the-Rhine (yuppies, new residents, current residents). Not everything is what it seems and you have to be willing to engage the other side. I am happy I had the opportunity to do so and develop my own viewpoint.
This Residency Program brings so much to your attention.
You have no choice to grow and change for the better with this program. You are able to gain academic and personal insight about various issues and perspectives. From my service hours I had constant engagement with various people and businesses. This afforded a better understanding about Over-the-Rhine with the accompaniment of the classes. I personally have become more aware, grateful, and socially conscious about things within the community. This program has been a highlight within my undergraduate career. I learned and experienced so much I will never forget. I am so honored to have been a participant of this program and I encourage students to participate as well.
Mary Milchen (EDT)
Throughout this semester I was able to view the world from a different lens, one unfamiliar to me until I stepped foot in Over- the-Rhine back in mid-August. Prior to coming here I believed Over-the-Rhine was an impoverished area with lots of problems that needed fixing. Naively, I believed that I, along with the other students of this program, would make changes and improve the lives of those living in the community. Today, I am happy that my views have changed. Over-the-Rhine is not a poor community by any means. It is a community rich with culture, history, and beautiful people. This community does not need to be fixed.
Although changes need to be made, they ought to be made with those that live here. The changes need to benefit those that live in the community. Living in Over-the-Rhine, I became quite familiar with the new “improvements” that are happening. These improvements are not meant to benefit the lives of the current residents. They are to attract a completely different socio- economic group of people. Had I not been lucky enough to meet the individuals of this neighborhood and live in unison with them, I might have naively thought the new upscale restaurants, bars, parks, and pricey apartments were a nice addition to the area.
Working at Rothenberg as a student teacher, I gained a completely different perspective of the community, especially of the children. The children living here deserve to have a place to call home. I saw several students come and go throughout the year. The main reason why these beautiful children left so frequently is because they had to move. The lack of affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine is a problem not only for the adults but also for the children. The children’s voice is one that is often overlooked the most. Inconsistency is the last thing children need in their lives.
What I learned most from the children at Rothenberg is resiliency. Despite all the negativity these children may encounter, they showed such positivity and joy for life. It was easy for me to get caught up in the “deficits” of these children’s lives, but they always proved to me that they did not need pity or sympathy. They need positive role models and support. They need advocates for their basic rights. They deserve the best, and building more bars, restaurants, and parks without pools is not in the best interest of these children. The children of Over-the-Rhine are the future of this area. If we are really looking at making true social change, I believe we need to start with the children and provide them the means to successful lives.
Christopher Buie (ARC)
My time here has been a special experience. I have affirmed and learned so much in the last few months. The pressures of society, the real workings of an architect’s profession, the will of people, and the adaptation of the human spirit have all taught me valuable lessons that I will carry forward with me. I have learned how to trust and to distrust. I have learned how to see people for who they are and appreciate their attributes and qualities that allow them to be an asset to life. I have learned to experience the moment of the now without allowing the past to dictate your future. I have learned that allowing your dream is more important than being right, that learning involves listening more than it involves displaying a persona. I have seen the relationships that are developed in the name of camaraderie. I saw a departure of mainstream ideals in favor of the “common man’s” voice to see that there are always two sides to a coin.
This semester has shown me a lot.
I am torn with my experience here; there were many situations where I needed to be myself and just ignore the bullshit. There was a constant test of my integrity to continue to believe in my upbringing and to believe in myself. The different perspectives that I had seen with my colleagues and the environment also showed me that I still have room to grow. I will not always see eye to eye with everyone but that doesn’t mean that they can just be tossed aside. The point of “coexistence” is to exist cohesively, admiring the attributes that others bring to the table and see how you can find common ground. Everyone has their own purpose, even if they do terrible things; there is a purpose to their actions and existence. Even if this means that their sole purpose is to allow others to fight for a worthy cause, they have a purpose.
Children’s Creative Corner was one of the best community service sites I was able to be a part of. Those kids were fantastic. They were bad as all get out but they showed me the rawness of my beginnings. Yes, those children are described as being a nuisance and ill-behaved but as for many of them their stories open your heart as to the why. Which allows you to forget about the “what’s wrong” and focus on the “what can I do.” I will never forget the piggy-back rides or the use of my arms as monkey bars. I will remember the pride that those kids showed. They cared about each other and within their teachings they expressed that. I will cherish those kids and what they showed me.
My experience here reaffirmed knowledge about the atrocities my culture has been subjected to. You can sometimes become complacent in your travels of the world. You can lose sight of where you came from and where you might want to head. This place will ground my experience to remember from where I once hailed is different from your average Miami student. I will be able to remember who I am as a person and what I, my family, and my ancestors had to fight for and the struggles they had to endure to get to the places they are today. And to always remember what real family is supposed to do for each other. To remember that my life comes from a special kind of breed of people that have paved a way through blood, sweat, tears, determination, patience, and perseverance. I am one of many that have the pleasure of saying they are survivors.
I am reluctant to leave this place. My time here was fleeting and I fear I can be considered the same as those people who fly-by-night through this area and leave their trash on the floor. I just hope I will not be considered the same when I leave. I hope I will be recognized as a contributor who “tried.”
Anisa Begbudi (ARC)
When I decided to do the Residency Program, I did not have much knowledge about Over-the-Rhine and was not fully aware of what I was getting into. I’ve not been one to follow the news or keep myself informed about social controversies and politics. Being an immigrant I am new to many cultural differences and I still struggle with what many people consider normal.
These 16 weeks made a major difference in my life, something I will be forever thankful for. During the semester, I had a job on the weekends that took me to the suburbs. Even after the first week in Over-the-Rhine, I had a difficult time working among suburban people, who I found had little idea about the world only 20 minutes away on the highway. I did not experience a culture shock in Over-the-Rhine as much as I did when I was in that “normal” suburban environment. It’s a whole different world.
The relationships I’ve built with my peers in the Residency Program are priceless. Talking about everything we just learned was the most important part of the whole educational experience. It was all in those conversations we had on the lunch break during studio, or late at night in our bedrooms. Some of us grew very close and built lifetime friendships. There were times of laughter, tears, frustration, awareness, education, true friendship, sadness, and happiness. I cannot help but to feel sad that the semester is over and we are all moving on with our lives. This was a journey we began together and I’m confident we will develop it throughout our lifetimes.
Wednesday night journaling was a perfect way to catch up and share our week-by-week struggles, successes, and thoughts. I learned the important lesson to never judge someone based upon where they are from or their appearance. Everybody has a story to tell. I began reflecting on my own story and I am eager to learn about other people. I learned to see the multiple sides of stories and I began to question many actions taking place in our environment.
In early November, I took a trip to Chicago with designers that are part of the International Interior Design Association. There I realized how my knowledge and awareness of neighborhoods such as Over-the-Rhine affected how I see other places. The whole time there, every time I walked by someone who sold Chicago’s homeless newspaper, I wondered about their story in that city.
I value this wonderful opportunity to meet the most wonderful people of such different backgrounds, life experiences, views, and opinions. We all had our own unique experiences that are now part of our being. But our story does not end here. I know that wherever we end up, this experience will always be part of us.
Carissa Rae Fry (WST)
This semester I learned about gentrification, collateral sanctions, welfare benefits, urban planning, rhetoric, and the list could go on. But in this reflection I want to highlight two things I learned that I did not expect to. At our final Open House presentation I talked about my favorite philosophers, but I didn’t explain Elizabeth Anscombe’s “love frees you from bias.” That is one thing I learned in Over-the-Rhine this semester. I also learned what it means to be a writer, a real one, and I did not expect that.
Working at Venice on Vine I tutored someone who shared with me that she previously had a drug addiction, and lost custody of her son because of it. During this semester her son turned eighteen and they regained contact. During one of our tutoring sessions she shared with me that her son held anger towards her because of her addiction and because he was taken from her. She asked me for suggestions on how to bond with him, and if she had a right to say certain things to him. We formed a bond over our tutoring sessions.
As most people in the program know, I was biking one day when a car hit me in the crosswalk. It was nothing serious but I did have some painful bruising, swelling, and road burn. At Venice the next day the same woman who had lost her son became the epitome of a nurturing mother. She asked what I had done to help with the swelling and bruising, giving me all sorts of advice, and making sure I had Epsom salt at the house. I found it so interesting that someone who was deemed an unfit mother could be so… motherly. Every day she asked about my leg and made sure to see the swelling was going down. Through this experience I finally learned what Anscombe meant by saying “love frees you from bias.” I came to fully accept that this woman, a recovering addict with no GED, could still be an amazing mother, who could give and receive love with full acknowledgement of good and bad in a person. Learning to care about her taught me how to love my own family and friends better for all of their flaws and imperfections, instead of looking over them or pretending they were not there. I figured out how to be a kid again and not judge people so harshly.
As a child I was enamored by writers, true writers who had their own books and seemed so smart and eloquent.
However, I never had the aspiration to be a writer, it was too unstable, too risky. I tried writing but it’s scary, because real writers reveal so much of themselves. When I found out that we would have journaling every week, I rolled my eyes. Nobody really wants to sit in a circle and bond, I thought. I figured most of what people would share would be fake or surface level, edited so they could share it with the group. This was not real writing. It turned out I was wrong about journaling. I read my own writing out loud in front of a group for the first time in my life this semester. It turned out people actually wrote about stuff they cared and learned about. Sometimes people would share stuff so “real” they would cry. It was really scary, bone-chilling terrifying to read my writing out loud. Eventually, I got used to it. So I shared my writing and wrote about real stuff that sometimes hurt or makes you smile. Other people did the same. I figured out what it meant to be a real writer. I am so thankful for the journaling because I could reflect and explore my experiences and my emotions, and it gave me confidence. I have learned what a real writer is.
I am sad to leave the family I have made at Venice.
While working there, I learned how to connect to people. I think this semester will help me become a more understanding and perceptive worker in whatever career I choose. I have become more confident as a student and community member. I am more secure with myself regardless of my surroundings.
Logan Goins (ARC)
Coming in to this experience I had no clue what to expect. I signed up for this experience because it fulfilled many requirements to graduate. The other main reason I decided to do this program was that it would be a way to get off campus as well as be a good resume builder. I did not even consider the personal growth as well as the awareness of issues that this program would entail.
Being entrenched in the issues and history of the Over- the-Rhine People’s Movement really opened my eyes to the many issues of the urban environment. To the city of Cincinnati, too often Over-the-Rhine is just a place that is crime-ridden and filled with homeless individuals. It’s as though the community is just not seen. I have been here for one semester and I met more people who love Over-the-Rhine and have been trying to build a community here for several generations. I feel I am a part of a community. It’s the simple things that bring this feeling of community. It ranges from Terry asking us to buy a Streetvibes most days or the fact that I can go into Venice on Vine and if Chiquita is taking orders that day she already knows what I will order. Or it could be the conversations I have with the employees of Coffee Emporium.
Living in the neighborhood and learning of the policies and issues of development has revealed to me the divide between the new residents and the old. The old residents are in the neighborhood for the long haul and are trying to build their lives here. The new residents are mostly seeing short-term goals. They are trying to establish themselves in their professional lives. And only see this as a stop on the train ride of life. This causes them to care less about building relationships. They do not worry themselves with thinking about children because they do not have any. They do not worry about affordable housing and its disappearance because they do not see this as their final home and don’t worry what will happen to it.
This experience helped shaped me into a more aware person and gave me a better perspective on different ways of life. This will help me in many facets of life. This will be very apparent in architecture. This experience will help me look more at the whole picture of a project and not just what will make a really cool design. This semester has helped me think in terms of all of society and not just for the select few.
Grace Kilbane (EDT)
This semester I learned the true meaning of community. Living here gave me many opportunities to learn the realities and perspectives of my students, their families and neighbors. By immersing myself in the same community, I was able to develop a special bond with my students that goes beyond academics. I learned and experienced the powerful influences of building relationships with people. I served the community and its needs because I got to know and love the people and their opinions. By having strong rapport with the students in the classroom, I was able to get past behavioral distractions and interruptions and expose the students to communities outside of their own. By attending the students’ basketball games, organizing a new library, planning their first winter dance, and genuinely caring for the kids, I built rapport with the students and teachers at Rothenberg is because I went beyond their expectations to earn their trust and respect. This semester I embraced differences and found similarities. The best way to connect with my students was to listen to them about their lifestyles, families, and interests, then integrate those ideas into the engaging curriculum and class discussions. The kids crave love, and they deserve it.
I have learned that many people may not understand the situations I see my students deal with everyday. As much as I wish that others could understand the emotions and exhaustion that I am experiencing, I know that they will not understand unless they too experience it. This semester helped me to cope with feelings of frustration, longing, and exhaustion as well as excitement and pure happiness. A coping strategy that I have found to be helpful at times when I felt overwhelmed, was talking to friends from the Residency Program and community mentors, experiencing similar situations. I learned that finding a group of close friends, self reflection, and journaling are the most effective ways for my stress relief.
My immersion allowed me to serve the community by building relationships among people and working towards improving their quality of life. Through my service, I was an advocate and support for my students. Service not only helps strengthen a community, but us personally, by allowing us to grow and learn alongside each other. This experience also motivated me to be an advocate for those oppressed by being a visionary and charismatic leader.
Participating in the Residency Program offered me a unique opportunity to fully immerse myself in a new community on a daily basis for an extended time. My experiences from this immersion have prepared me for the physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges that I will be faced in future career placements. I aspire to continue my work of teaching by devoting myself to building rapport with the community, respecting cultural differences, self-evaluating, and acting on behalf of the needs and wants of community. This experience has prepared me for the challenges while serving, by giving me the confidence that I will be able to overcome them with proper judgment, reflection, and actions that protect myself and the prosperity of others.
Serving and educating students in an urban community are my passion, and because they are often overlooked, they deserve opportunities to thrive and succeed.
Emma Margerum-Leys (ARC)
Life here was so complete that it is difficult for me to dissect all aspects of my time here. I know I learned so much, was challenged and grew as a person. But right now I still feel so immersed in my time here. What I am most grateful for is how happy I’ve been here. I certainly expected to learn a lot, to be intellectually and physically challenged during my time here.
What was unexpected was the joy I found here daily, and the close bonds I formed with my peers.
I also learned to challenge my preconceived notions about life and what makes community. Greeting strangers on the street not only made me feel as though I’m part of a larger community, it also bolstered my confidence. It brought me out of my shell and made me more aware of strangers as people, as individuals. I love the shared spaces of the city, tempered with the respect for privacy most people here have.
The other side of life here that made this time unique are the layers of community I experienced. Most closely, and most wonderfully, are the people I lived and worked with. I love the time I’ve spent with them, the food, the laughter. They have become my family here and I’m going to miss them more than I can imagine. Beyond that has been the community of Over-the- Rhine which I experienced through meeting people in the classroom and on the street. Beyond that is the greater sphere of the city, of people tied together through geography.
Studio was fantastic. I responded well to the format of long work days. I thought the structure would be overwhelming, but I loved getting my work done during the day and coming home exhausted. This was the first time that the last day of studio came too soon. Instead of the usual elation I feel, I was decidedly melancholy.
The courses added an intellectual and reflective layer to my time here. Because “school” in the typical sense felt trumped by experience, the classes became a part of the whole instead of my reason for being here. I liked the opportunity to speak with an assortment of people, to learn from their expertise. I liked the readings, the new ideas and lenses through which to see the world. The discussions pushed me in many ways: to speak up and voice my opinions, to listen critically to others to decipher what they meant, to challenge my preconceived notions about myself and the world. I do not feel that my core beliefs were fundamentally changed, but I do feel more aware of issues and more sure of my stance on them.
The weekly journaling sessions provided a time to listen to each other emotionally rather than analytically. They brought a deeper understanding of each person and the different experiences taking place even within our small group. They elicited an emotional bond among the group. Even though it took a while to fully appreciate all that they offered, it always felt like a quiet and respectful time. Journaling also helped me rediscover my poetical voice, which had been dormant for about a year.
Overall, this semester far exceeded my expectations. I am amazed at the happiness I found here, the challenges, the wonderful people. I know this was the perfect place for me to have been this semester. I have grown as an individual and as a community member. I have forged strong bonds with the people I saw everyday, and with the streets of this city. I feel so lucky that I did this program and that it resonated so deeply with me. It has been the best semester of college thus far.
Meredith Scheppele (SPA)
One does not get many chances to sit in a classroom and learn about something, and then walk directly into what they were just learning about when they leave the class. Every minute has been an unforgettable experience. It has redefined the way I see poverty, urban environments, and the communities of people in any given area.
The work I did at Rothenberg, the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), Children’s Creative Corner (CCC), and at the Wesley Chapel Mission Center (WCMC) deeply exposed me to the community. Rothenberg, WCMC, and CCC showed me the neighborhood. There was a common group of kids found between these places, and I got to see how interconnected all of their lives were. I also got to see the fantastic relationship between siblings and families here.
They fought like any other siblings would, but they had a sense of responsibility and a care for each other that I have not seen in other families. Older siblings who, even if they were in second grade, took care of siblings as if they were ten years older. They looked out for one another. There is so much strength in blood and community here.
At SCPA I saw a newer crowd. It was a wonderful school, but the children were not always from around here. It revealed the direction that developers want the neighborhood to move towards. I had such mixed feelings about this school.
There was no denying it was a wonderful environment, and provided a great education, but it was not for the neighborhood. These kids were never at CCC, and only one occasionally went to the WCMC. I loved the school for the students that were there, I just wished it was something that was promoted more within the area.
The classes really grounded my learning. ARC 427 provided a way to take what I was seeing in the community and put it into a much greater context. I gained background knowledge for everything I was experiencing. I was then able to use that knowledge to form my own theories about what actually causes social change to occur. Those who have more power use it to shift things in ways they would like. We can see how recent happenings in Over-the-Rhine are of the desires of the government and big developers. You can also see that what is happening is not exclusive to Over-the-Rhine, but something that is happening all over the country.
In EDL 377 I appreciated the guests that visited each week. Hearing about an issue from someone directly involved was the best possible way to learn about it. First-hand stories add so much to understanding. The research paper helped me look more closely at the schools I was working in. I examined the affect of alternative types of public education on low- income areas. It was plain to see that the way things were between SCPA and Rothenberg were not equal and this allowed me to understand why.
ARC 405 also allowed me to look more critically at the neighborhood in the ways the other classes did. I also love the final product of our “design” project. I am happy to have something concrete to take with me and share with my friends and family, to tell them about my time here.
With the importance placed on reflection, both in the individual papers for each class, and our journaling time on Wednesdays, I was able to make sense of what I was seeing here. I can now see how complex the struggles of individuals are who are not favored by society. I will admit that I used to see things the way many of the new residents of the area probably do. I wondered why the people wouldn’t just get a job, or stay in school. Now I see that there is so much more to it, and so much more working against them. I think this semester has given me a filter for viewing social constructions.
I will never see a neighborhood quite the same. A place may not be rich in money, but being rich in community can be so much better. Aside from all of the depth of understanding I have gained, one thing I will take with me from this semester is a connection to this community. I love Over-the-Rhine and I have every intention of continuing my involvement in some way. It has changed me as a person, and allowed me to grow as a person. Doing what I can to try and stay involved seems like the least I can do to return the favor.