BY KIMBERLY CONGER
One of the challenges for a university situated in the heart of an urban area is to help students see themselves as part of the larger community, not just as consumers or people who are just passing through. This is particularly true in a place like the university of Cincinnati, whose size and footprint play a big role in the decision making of the city in terms of resources, attention, and development. The Cincinnati Project helps to foster connections among UC researchers, students, and community organizations throughout the tri-state. I wanted to give my students experience with community engaged research and the project provided a perfect opportunity to give them a set of real-world applications for the topics we were studying in class.
I taught an introduction to Public Administration class for about 25 undergraduate students in the fall of 2017. Public Administration’s goal is to train students who can think practically about managing the public sector and serving citizens in administrative government. Sometimes, however, it is hard for students to see the real implications for our theoretical conversations. By partnering with the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, my students were not only able to see the practical implications of their theoretical knowledge, but were able to see how a non-profit community organization can directly benefit from the efforts of community-engaged college students.
The project the Greater Cincinnati Urban League tasked us with was to better understand the efforts of other cities in creating cultures of community-oriented policing. The city of Cincinnati and its police department operate under a collaborative agreement, a negotiated set of rules and practices designed to help the city and police department more equitably address crime and its prevention in a city with a history of racial tension and even violence. Because the collaborative agreement was not a court order, it can be amended by the community. The city of Cincinnati entered into conversations with stake-holders to “refresh” the agreement in 2017 and my PA students helped to provide some of the background information for the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, a primary stake-holder in these conversations.
Students spent the semester completing group research projects into the community-policing philosophy, infrastructure, actors, and outcomes in cities across the country, including Cleveland, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Seattle. Based on the Arnstein “Ladder of Community Engagement,” students evaluated the participation of citizens in community policing and police decision-making. They used information and narratives – and even some personal interviews – with stake-holders involved in these efforts to evaluate the plans and how police, city leaders, and community members and organizations responded to these plans and their outcomes. Students presented their findings to Dorothy Smoot, executive director of the Urban League’s Community Police Partnering Center and several other leaders of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, leading the League to request more in-depth research on some of these cities’ plans and experiences.
Students in the class not only enjoyed the project and the opportunity to contribute practically to the city of Cincinnati, but several expressed interest in pursuing these types of issues, through a Public Administration degree or other avenue, in their careers after college. Several students made presentations about their work and experience to The Cincinnati Project Symposium in March of 2018. They demonstrated to other community partners how engaged and enthusiastic students could be in serving community needs and helping to solve problems for the city in which the students now feel much more embedded. We were happy to provide useful information for the Urban League, but perhaps even more important for the future of Cincinnati, we have demonstrated to both students and community partners that undergraduates can be drawn into the life of the city and offer their unique contributions to the well-being of the community beyond the University.