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June 28, 2012

Senate committee to expand Oakland, Hazelwood ties

A University Senate committee aims to expand Pitt’s ties with Oakland community groups as it heads into next academic year.

The community relations committee (CRC) also intends to mobilize the University’s academic and social resources to aid neighboring Hazelwood.

CRC pro tem member Tracy Soska of social work proposed the initiative. “Hazelwood is getting a lot of attention right now, with the opening of the bike trail and a number of community development opportunities out there. The Heinz Endowments has now selected Hazelwood as their top priority neighborhood, as their major focus. So there are a lot of resources that will become available,” Soska reported at the June 19 meeting.

“This opportunity of working in our backyard, with so much going on down there, is something this committee should be aware of. We, as a committee, can champion students volunteering there. It would be very easy for the University to extend the shuttle bus service beyond Second Avenue to the neighborhood,” for Pitt students to get there, he said.

Faculty also could seize the opportunity for service-learning projects in the neighborhood, he added.

The committee plans a field trip to Hazelwood in October to take a tour and meet with community planning officials there.

CRC also is supporting a new effort by the Division of Student Affairs in partnership with the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. to train resident assistants with the goal of improving town-and-gown relations. OPDC has hired a consultant to train RAs in grooming on-campus students to be prepared to act as responsible citizens should they move off campus.

OPDC’s Bryant Andrews-Nino told the committee that OPDC has hired a resident-assistant liaison to work with RAs, as well as long-term residents and Oakland institutions, on new ways to educate students about being better members of the Oakland community.

“The RA training is to help students with the transition to off-campus residences in the future by instilling a pride for living in Oakland. We want to present the students with an understanding of the Oakland culture and that there are traditions and expectations already in place, the idea that it’s not just an apartment, but that it’s their home. We also want to make sure that students understand their rights [as tenants].”

The students already feel a pride for Pitt, he noted. “They have expectations as students, but there are also community expectations. We want to extend Pitt pride to include Oakland pride.”

The RA training sessions tentatively are planned for February, when students typically begin planning for an off-campus transition.

OPDC also will provide printed information for off-campus transitioning students, with tips on such things as trash collection, local recycling efforts, emergency numbers and other information residents need, Andrews-Nino said.

OPDC also plans to generate a flyer with the top five “party fouls,” such as the dangers of excessive or underage drinking.

CRC liaison John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for Community Relations, added, “One component of what we’re trying to do [with this effort] is to get the kids to understand that although they might view the Oakland neighborhood as their campus, there are permanent residents who have been in Oakland for a long time. The other component is in working with the Student Government Board, we are adding a piece that is going to be part of the Student Code of Conduct, and working with the freshman experience program to teach students that, although they’re starting out on campus, they may want in the future to consider moving off campus. In order to do that, we need to drill into their craniums that there are rules and expectations and that they have some responsibilities.”

CRC members suggested that the same information be made available at graduate student orientation sessions, typically held in August, because the vast majority of grad students live off campus. The suggestion was made that OPDC work with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly in that effort.

In other CRC business:

• Wilds reported that Pitt’s annual Day of Caring will be held Oct. 19, which this year is the day before the annual Pitt Make a Difference Day (PMAD), a student-oriented activity. Both Day of Caring and PMAD are volunteer opportunities for the Pitt community to aid in refurbishing projects in nearby neighborhoods.

• Wilds also reported that a construction project in the Oak Hill neighborhood near Trees Hall is back on track after several lengthy delays due to the developer’s financial problems. Pitt purchased land in 2007 to build athletics fields on the former site of public housing. Part of the agreement with the developer Beacon/Corcoran Jennison Management included Pitt’s promise to lease a new community-oriented Town Center Building, 20,000 square feet of which would house a Pitt department with 3,000 square feet donated as space for the Oak Hill residents. Under the agreement, the building was expected to be ready for occupancy by Jan. 1, 2012.

“We’ve had a department — the Department of Health and Physical Activity — ready to move in, until all these delays occurred. The developer had some financial issues with banks, but those appear to be resolved,” Wilds said.

Construction has begun and Wilds expects occupancy by early 2013.

• Trevor Smith, director of community programs at Community Human Services (CHS), asked how his group could make students aware that they may be eligible to use the services of the Oakland Food Pantry, which is supported by Pitt’s annual food drive and staffed in part by Pitt student volunteers.

CRC members suggested going through the dean of students and the Student Government Board to send an email to all students that not only are donations to the Food Pantry welcome, but that needy students who are living off campus are welcome at the Food Pantry. (More information is available at 412/246-1640.)

• Mary Davidson of the Oakland Business Improvement District reported that the Oakland Farmers Market will open tomorrow, June 29, and continue on Fridays, 3-6:30 p.m., through Nov. 9.

The market is located on Sennott Street between Atwood Street and Meyran Avenue.

—Peter Hart

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