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Students plunge into colorful urban community

Editor in Chief

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 00:12

“Ghetto,” “dangerous,” “poor.” These were a few of the words Miami students used when asked to describe Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (OTR) community. But that was before they found themselves in the heart of the city for a night.

The Urban Plunge program is a 24-hour community service event put on by Miami University’s Urban Teaching Cohort (UTC). After piling into a van on Friday, Nov. 8, students spent the night touring the city, tutoring local children and transforming their concept of the community.

“We went on a tour, but it was really so much more than a tour,” Sarah Duncan said, a junior who was in attendance.

The event was coordinated with Peaslee Neighborhood Center volunteers who work in the city every day. Community Education and Volunteer Coordinator Jenn Summers shared a bit of OTR’s history as she walked the group down a street of empty homes.

“[OTR] is about people who have been building community and doing things here, but because they don’t have a lot of money, they don’t make as huge of a dent as say a developer with pockets that are pretty deep.”

According to Summers, OTR is the largest intact historic district in the United States, but many buildings are being torn down and transformed into pricey businesses and homes. Summers said many of the residents have lived there for as many as 40 years, but they walk out their front doors now and hardly recognize the place.

While renovations have brought in new people and venues, the increased price of real estate has forced others out, leaving behind a large homeless population and class divide.

The group got to hear more about these developing issues when having dinner with members of the local homeless coalition.

“It was really interesting to hear from a homeless person’s perspective because you see people on the street, but you don’t necessarily know what their story is,” Duncan said. “This was somebody who was willing to tell their whole story, especially about something like experiencing homelessness; I’m sure that’s something that’s hard to talk about.”

The Urban Plunge had students go beyond simply hearing about poverty in OTR.

“We did an activity at Findlay market for lunch where we were given $1.25 to eat, which was supposed to emulate what it’s like getting lunch on food stamps,” Duncan said.

According to her, the experience provided some much-needed perspective after spending three years on Miami’s campus.

“[OTR] is louder in the best sense, people come up and talk to you,” Duncan said. “You walk around Miami and sometimes its just like you’re walking through a brick jungle. Over-the-Rhine is a lot more diverse, from the colors of the buildings to all the different kinds of people you meet there.”

The Urban Plunge program is held three times per semester, with the next one set for Feb. 8. Each trip incorporates different activities and provides an opportunity for students to get involved.

“It’s so important for us to go out and experience different areas and see how people live,” Duncan said. “It’s really important to go out and get your feet wet.”

For more information about Urban Plunge, students can contact event director Tammy Schwartz at 513-529-0434.

Those looking to get involved can also contact Summers with Peaslee Neighborhood Center at volunteer@peasleecenter.org.

“In order to understand the world, you have to be able to think critically, figure out what is happening and not just take things at face value,” Summers said. “So that’s one thing we do on an urban immersion to help, and we hope that people will do that everywhere they go.”

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