Figuring out the best way to approach someone different than you, find common ground and work toward a common goal can be difficult work. Thankfully, it’s a process with which the PCHR Community Relations Division has deep expertise – and the team lent its many years of insights and experience to hundreds Temple University students.
Temple’s 2014 Imagining and Re-Imagining Diversity symposium was a full-day event examining strategies to create a more inclusive and empathetic climate, on and off campus.
The community relations team served as volunteer facilitators as students and faculty joined to probe big-picture issues ranging from retention factors among people of color to the impact of gentrification on both the campus and its North Philadelphia neighbors. The reality of changing neighborhoods in this section of North Philadelphia has bubbled to the surface often as of late, with deep passions on both sides of the debate.
That segment of the day’s discussion lent to the strength of the community relations team, which helps neighbors navigate these rocky waters across the city. A development boom and an influx of new residents have added to tensions and even flare-ups that need deft hands to douse, from Mayfair to Cedar Park to Yorktown.
“Some of the students come from the suburbs and have no real concept of what urban life is about, and figure that life would be great if only Temple would help get rid of those ‘irritating’ neighbors, that the campus is benefitting them more, economically,” said PCHR’s Tierra Thompson.
“Other students took another look, from the view of the residents, saying, ‘Hey, they were there first. We’re in their ‘hood. Now they are paying higher property taxes, maybe sometimes even being forced out because they can’t afford their homes anymore.’ There are a lot of thoughtful opinions,” Thompson added.
Attendees spent time visiting “listening booths” and thinking through their concept of diversity at Temple. They jotted down responses to questions such as improving faculty and student diversity as well as connections to the surrounding neighborhood. They defined issues and offered suggestions on resolving them in group discussions.
Mayor Michael A. Nutter and PCHR Commissioner Rebecca T. Alpert were among those who came to share thoughts on what was hailed – and trended on social media – as “TUnity Day.”
Some of the suggestions were concrete to-dos whereas others focused on shifting mindsets. The collected data will be analyzed and an action plan is expected among next steps, but even this level of engagement raised awareness, said PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque.
“Many of the students felt that a lot of the issues between them and their neighbors could be alleviated if they only got to know each other,” Duque said.
“When students were talking about how their classmates sometimes, trash up neighborhoods, one student said that if those students took the time to get to know their neighbors — and were friendly with their children — they would think twice before throwing trash onto their property. That’s true – and a major complaint we often hear.
“If these young people start thinking more about how their actions affect other people, the people who will be there long after they graduate,” Duque said, “maybe we’ll be on the path to greater harmony and understanding.”
Of course, if any campus-neighborhood misunderstandings arise in the meantime, Team PCHR will be ready to help calm the waters.