After Five Years of Knocking on Doors, ESU Continues To See Value In Good Neighbor Visits
When the new academic year kicked off on August 27 at East Stroudsburg University, it wasn’t just the students who would learn more from their interactions. Members of the University’s campus community – including administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni – went to the streets of the East Stroudsburg Borough to speak with residents about ways that we could all work together to be good neighbors. Now in its fifth year, ESU’s Good Neighbor initiative continues to spark conversation and allow homeowners and renters to actually associate individuals with its University.
“It’s a program that began back in 2014 when President Welsh wanted to find a better way to interact with our neighbors,” said ESU Chief of Staff Miguel Barbosa. Barbosa, who also coordinates the initiative, says that the idea of ESU’s Good Neighbor program began as a simple idea of just going out and visiting with residents around our local community. But over the years, it has become a very powerful way to interact and reach out to our neighbors. “Dr. Welsh and others from her leadership team felt that making these visits at the beginning of the academic year sets the tone for a healthy relationship between borough residents and the University from the very start. President Welsh wants all lines of communication to be open. Not everything we hear is positive, but the dialogue is intended to build trust and create partnerships.”
“What better way than to go to the residents, at their homes, to find out how we can, as an institution, become better neighbors with our community?” says ESU President Marcia G. Welsh, Ph.D. “The key was to determine who would best represent ESU as we talk to our neighbors, many of whom are not just home owners and renters, but students who live in the surrounding streets adjacent to the campus? We started small with members of my leadership team, student affairs staff, student leaders and University Police. By its second year, the initiative grew and we started to include volunteer members of the faculty, staff, and, of course, students. We wanted key campus stakeholders – at every level – to become part of our visit teams so they could experience, first-hand, what neighbors were saying about our university.”
When visiting community members, Good Neighbor volunteers provide them with a copy of the University’s Good Neighbor Guide which includes campus information and contact numbers for both student renters and homeowners. If folks are not home at the time of the visit, volunteers leave the guide and a hangtag on their door to let neighbors know friends from ESU dropped by.
“Overall, the reactions to our visits have been very positive,” says Barbosa. “Some folks even invite us in for dinner!” But the most valuable outcome, he admits, is the food for thought. Most of the interactions are very positive and supportive of the University and the students. Many of our neighbors really enjoy living next to a university campus which allows them to easily visit for athletic competitions, as well as attend the many cultural performances throughout the year. The most common complaints are about student disturbances going to and coming from off-campus parties and cars speeding through residential areas. What most neighbors don’t know is that off-campus violations such as these are out of University Police jurisdiction and require them to call the regional police for help. Residents are surprised that we encourage them to get the help they need, when they need it.”
“When I’m making visits in the community and someone identifies a student residence that has not necessarily been neighborly, I make a point of visiting the students and suggest they may want to take the time to get to know their neighbors and reminding them that they have a responsibility to the town in which they now live,” says Dr. Welsh. “Some students have responded very well to living off campus – baking cookies for residents, shoveling snow, helping with garbage day chores and the like.”
As the visits progressed through the years, ESU’s Good Neighbor Groups also discovered that there were also concerns among residents that were not necessarily related to its campus or students. That’s why this year, President Welsh wanted to expand the group so that other critical community members could hear what residents have to say and so members of the East Stroudsburg Borough Council and Stroud Area Regional Police (SARP) joined teams of campus community members for their walks on August 28 and 29. As with previous years, the feedback received from the walks is shared with the East Stroudsburg Borough Council, during the university’s town gown meetings, as well as with ESU’s community coalition committee which include representatives from SARP and other community organizations.
“Our intent is to continue to make these Good Neighbor visits better each year and keeping an open dialogue with our residents,” said Barbosa. “We hope to continue to see strong representation by the East Stroudsburg Borough and police in order to help our community stay strong, grow.”
To follow is a table that provides readers with a snapshot of the Good Neighbor visits through the years:
|Academic Year||Number of Visits|
**Not all resident visits resulted in a conversation, so materials are left behind.