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New program to connect college, city residents

Two dinners and a service project in the works

Zoe Covey
Contributing Writer

The College of Wooster has been awarded a grant of $5,000 from Campus Compact’s Fund for Positive Engagement to implement a program to build connections between students at the College and the citizens of Wooster.

The program, called “Bridging Along Beall Avenue: Living Room Conversations to Connect Campus and Community,” aims to connect people who live in Wooster with students here at the College. The program consists of two catered meals shared between students and community members and is meant to foster conversation about difference, as well as a service project in February where students and community members will work side by side. The program will consist of one gathering a month, starting in January and continuing until March.

Shana Zelenka ’19, who is working on this program, says that while the goal is to talk about difference, it is ultimately difficult and unhelpful to try to predict where the conversations will go.

“The nature of the project is to allow students and community members to talk about tough issues of difference, so instead of predicting what will happen during these conversations, we want them to develop naturally and then see where that can take the participants,” Zelenka said.

“Setting up people who naturally disagree due to different experiences and backgrounds and allowing them to interact in a neutral setting is the best way to foster effective communication,” says Nate Addington, director of civic and social responsibility. Addington said that he thought the conversations will be a good and productive stretch for all parties involved.

“I think, and in fact, I hope, that people are going to be pushed out of their comfort zones,” Addington said. “It’s far too easy to only talk with and associate with those individuals that think exactly as we do. I hope people are challenged, challenged to see things from a new perspective, challenged to reconsider some of their assumptions they might have had and challenged to start creating change in their lives and the lives of others based off what they discovered.”

Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication studies, said that current national and local issues made it important to implement this sort of program in Wooster.

“Today, almost any place in the United States is a good place to implement this sort of program,” Bostdorff said. “Here at Wooster, students have routinely reported harassment, hate speech and even altercations with passing drivers along Beall Avenue, and those reports seemed to spike after the 2016 presidential election.”

These issues, Bostdorff said, were often influenced by stereotypes held by one group against another.

“Many students tend to view the town in stereotypical ways as backward or even dangerous, perceptions that seemed to harden after the election. Recent incidents on Beall Avenue — instigated by a just a few individuals —

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