This semester, the Community and University Honors Seminar at Duquesne University was charged with outlining business models for a nonprofit organization that will operate out of the August Wilson house in the Hill District. This experience required my fellow classmates and me to learn a lot about a neighborhood that many of us were unfamiliar with. While learning about the Hill District neighborhood, I came to realize that the needs of the community were much different than I had expected them to be. Only after becoming informed, active, critical, and questioning citizens were we able to uncover exactly what it was that the community needed. In addition to having to uncover what the needs of the Hill District Community were, our class also came to realize that we would also need to use the resources available to us in the most effective ways possible.
To introduce the notion that things are not always as they appear, Terry Baltimore, the Director of Community Engagement at the Hill House Association, spoke with our class on various occasions. At one of these events, Ms. Baltimore led a tour of the Hill District and stressed the importance of eliminating the negative stigma of the Hill District and getting to know the neighborhood for what it truly is. In order to do this, she suggested that we ask others to share their experiences and stories with us so that we might get to know them a little better. Ms. Baltimore also expressed that things are not always as they appear, and that you do not have the full story until you hear it for yourself first hand.
In order to determine the needs of the Hill District community, our class surveyed various community members and asked them about the general needs of the Hill District and how the August Wilson house could provide for these needs. Although we had originally thought that the Daisy Wilson Artist Community should establish a center for artistic expression, we soon discovered that a community center with more flexible utilities would be more appropriate. Additionally, in attending two Rice on the Road lectures I heard from community members how important their close relationships to each other were. For many, the Hill District community is a place in which they have been born and raised, and now are raising children of their own. Being a part of this neighborhood comes with a sense of pride that is unique to the residents of the Hill District. As students, we were outsiders of this community; we did not understand the dynamic amongst the community members and initially found it difficult to come up with plans for development within the Hill District. Although our seminar has many talents and resources to offer the community, it is important that we use these in the most efficient ways possible. In fact, using your talents to the best of your ability is a social duty.
As a student at a university, I have many resources accessible to me and I have gained many skills from my time spent here. However, I have realized that it is more important that I know what to do with these skills and resources than to actually have them. The work of the social justice seminar required constant reevaluation of our processes and our progress. Often times, we decided that reassignment of tasks was necessary based on experiences that fellow students have had as well as what resources were available to them. In this way, we were able to most effectively provide for the community that we were serving. Based on this experience, it is clear that coordination between various communities, such as our University and the Hill District, is necessary.
In regard to the class, I believe that we could have accomplished much more work if we had known the problems that we were trying to solve earlier in the semester. However, learning by trial and error has provided valuable lessons in how to go about problem solving in the future. This class does not provide an isolated example of problem solving. Regardless of the career paths that my fellow classmates and I plan to pursue, we will encounter tasks in which we will need to satisfy the needs of an individual, community, company, etc. This will require the application of determining needs as was practiced in this class. Additionally, it will be useful to combine the resources of various people, institutions, etc. in order to meet these needs most effectively.