I know that according to the calendar we’re still knee deep in winter but the temperature and lack of snow is more reminiscent of spring so it’s hard not to be thinking about the annual spring weekends leading up to graduation.
We’ve already had some early planning sessions with the staff at Kent State University, including our monthly coordination meetings with the University-Community Liaison.
I was asked by a reporter this week how I thought the University-Community Liaison position was working out. I gave it a lot of thought and I offered this reply:
For all the great success that the City and University have had partnering to revitalize downtown Kent, I am even prouder of the way we’ve come together to strengthen the social fabric between the student body and the Kent community, through efforts like the University-Community Liaison position.
Whenever you mix a large number of very diverse people of all ages on and off campus, relations will have their ups and downs. It’s true in every university city.
But we wanted Kent to be more than just another university city where town-gown is mentioned as a friction point, or worse yet, as a community liability. Instead we shared a belief with Dr. Lefton and his senior staff that if we get this town-gown thing right in Kent, it can be one of our greatest assets — and I think we’ve started to prove that thanks to the hard work of Vice President Greg Jarvie and Pete Mahoney who have taken the lead on these issues in our community.
We all talked about how we wanted every student’s time spent in Kent to be memorable and hold special meaning in their lives, and we wished the same for those young families or retired seniors who are the student’s neighbors that call Kent home year round. We took it as our mission to make that aspiration not just possible but probable, by committing resources to manage those relations just like we manage anything that we consider a community priority.
It’s been very encouraging to be a part of growth of the University-Community Liaison position, which started with a part time grad student in 2010 and has now become fully staffed under Pete’s leadership with the continued assistance of a grad student. Lots of universities talk about improving town-gown relations but as evidenced by Pete and his office, Kent State University has been willing to make a significant investment to make sure that happens. To me, it’s that level of commitment, with feet on the ground and hands knocking on doors, that has been the difference maker and has set us on such a positive trajectory.
The Liaison position deserves a lot of praise as it is a focal point for town-gown relations, but this position could never succeed in isolation, and it’s success is a direct result of the remarkable level of cooperation across all levels of the University and City organizations — particularly in the respective police departments that have devoted an enormous amount of time to partnering, planning and responding to student and neighborhood needs.
Just like any large family, we’ll still have bumps in the road, but we’ve built a support network that is working hard every day to stay out in front of problems, scout for trouble spots, and prepare for challenges in a way that we’ve never been able to do before.
As exciting as all the changes in the downtown skyline are to watch unfold, the cultural shift that has accompanied the renewed focus on managing town-gown relations is a point of pride that may prove to be our most important contribution to life in Kent for decades to come.