Connecting city and college Building a bond that unites the Springfield College welcome arch

By Angelica J. Core & Nick Perenick

The College sits right in the heart of the city. Both share the name “Springfield.” But what exactly is the relationship between Springfield College and the surrounding community?

Alden Street is a two-mile road that connects two historic neighborhoods- Old Hill and Upper Hill. Old Hill incorporates many important Springfield businesses, including many local markets, schools, churches and regular convenience stores, while Upper Hill is home to libraries, food shops, the Indian Motorcycle Building, and American International College. The residents that make up the neighborhoods come from many different backgrounds, and fill the urban area with diverse people, foods, and cultures.

For four years, Dr. Calvin Hill, the Vice President for Community Engagement, has combated the issue of complacency in Springfield College’s lack of relationships with the city. “The difficulty is that as a city, you know it is changing. It's becoming more urban, and the College has sort of been the institution that has stayed the test of time, and the College has not changed to reflect the community,” Hill said.

The city is dealing with a number of its own issues such as high unemployment rates, high rates of immigration, and up to 70 percent of students in Springfield Public schools qualify for free lunch. While the city is changing, Springfield College has stayed the predominantly white campus it has been for its 134 years of existence.

For the past three years, Hill has gotten the campus associated with the Basketball Hall of Fame, which brought an educational leadership luncheon. According to Hill, that event brought in 150 local high school students, community members, and basketball icons such as Shaquille O’Neal, Rebecca Lobo, and Grant Hill.

It’s important to realize that building relationships with people in the community is key. Hill recalled times when older individuals in the community would spend time on campus, whether it was for a walk or to play handball on the green. Things like that don’t happen as much anymore for a number of reasons, but one of his focuses is to bring the community back to campus.

While Hill understands the importance of the school progressing its connection with the city to promote positive town relations, he is not alone. Students who are from Springfield and attend Springfield College also feel the importance.

Sophomore Suraji (Raj) Omoru believes the relationship can be improved. “I think there should be a presence in the school system more than there is currently,” Omoru said. “I believe it all starts with the kids. Show them that not only does Springfield College academically support the community, but also physically and emotionally. It starts there, because it can trickle down through generations and cause overall better results.”

Omoru, who grew up in the city for 20 years, had heard very little about the College. “The only interaction I had with the College was from the Hoophall advertisements that I and all my friends had seen around the city,” Omoru said.

A significant reason there’s a big gap between the College and the city is because of the negative stigma the city has. However, like many other residents who attend Springfield College, Omoru wishes that people would take the time to get to know Springfield the city, not just Springfield the College.

“This is my city and for someone to dismiss the beauty in it and label it dangerous off a few reports is hurtful,” said Omoru. “This is the same city that I grew up in, rode bikes in, went to the movies, had prom, graduated, went to college in, and going to become a doctor in.”

There’s a long way to go in order to bridge the gap between the College and the city, but steps have been taken. Along with the Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement efforts, student groups such as Student Society for Bridging Diversity (SSBD) and Men of Excellence (MOE) have been a bright light in the sense of town relationships, while also helping to bridge the gap of diversity on campus.

Recently, the MOE, a group ‘designed to fight for social justice amongst our campus and make a difference in the community,’ hosted the Springfield Renaissance School, a local magnet high school. MOE held an informational session, a tour, and a lunch on campus in an effort to showcase their inclusive group and serve as role models for prospective students from the city. MOE aimed to invite the students from the city to see themselves as part of the Springfield College community as well.

During the event, junior Kris Rhim, an active member of Men of Excellence, helped to educate the young men on how hard it is to get into college and alternative routes such as trade school.

“No one ever told me about acceptance rates and I didn’t realize how hard it was to get into my dream schools like USC, UCLA, and Duke. I thought by doing this for them and letting them know the cost would be beneficial,” Rhim said. He also felt it was important to point out that college isn’t for everyone, and urged the group to look into other options as well, like a trade that might be of interest.

The event was impactful to these students, because it allowed them to see other students of color who came from similar cities doing well. The importance for them to see people who look like them in leadership roles is huge.

“I want those kids to see what I’m doing here on campus and say to themselves, ‘If he’s doing that, so can I,’” said Rhim.

To continue to progress as a campus, students need to think deeper into the mission of Springfield College: educating one’s spirit, mind, and body for leadership in service to others. Through this thinking, Hill believes questions will be raised about the school’s accessibility for all people to feel welcomed on campus, including LGBT and people with disabilities, and by starting those dialogues, answers can be found.

“We brought back an event that kind of died for a couple of years called a block party on the hill, which was a way for us to say thank you and to celebrate our neighbors,” Hill said. Every August, at least for the last three or four years, his office has put on a barbecue for the block party at DeBerry Elementary School. Hill reported that roughly 800 people attend. The office pays for hamburgers and hot dogs. The office collaborates with HAP housing, which allows them to celebrate with community members in both the Upper Hill and Old Hill neighborhoods.

Two years ago, Springfield College celebrated the new Candaras Davison Center for Inclusion, which is a home that houses five individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, who may have other differences as well. “That house has served as a bridge to having our students understand disability and having those students have an opportunity to come to campus so that we can get to know each other,” Hill said.

Additionally, the campus needs to grow as the city does. In recent years, the administration at Springfield College has encouraged professors to live in the city they teach in, rather than coming from far away. The thinking is that if the professor and families have a deep passion for the city, and invest time in the schools and businesses, not only will the city grow, but the relationship with the College will strengthen too. The College has initiated a $5,000 nonpayment loan for the individual to put toward a deposit for homes in the Upper Hill, Oak Hill, or Bay neighborhood.

The city’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Talia Gee, and Hill have spoken about how what impacts the city also impacts the College -- positively or negatively. One thing they are working on is hiring police officers and seeing if Springfield College can prepare several of the next generations of police officers for the city of Springfield.

For prospective students who may be in a tough environment and lack the resources of being prepared for standardized testing, the SAT will become optional to submit for admission in 2020. This step is a huge win for urban schools. The pressure of being in a school system that is not performing as well nor educating well will be alleviated. “We’re going to look at you for the grades that you’re coming in with,” said Hill.

The welcome arch is not a landmark meant to divide the College from the City. While the relationship between the two is unclear, it is developing and they aspire to overcome the obstacles and establish the most connected relationship they can.

Created By
Angelica J. Core & Nick Perenick

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