Dear friends, partners, and supporters of CommUniverCity,
This past year brought new high points and challenges for our work in the underserved neighborhoods of Central San Jose. Our efforts brought together faculty and students in over two dozen different academic departments ranging from psychology to geology and over a dozen institutions of higher education in Northern California. Alongside them were staff and leadership from eight City of San Jose Departments, two regional government agencies, and over a dozen k-12 school and after school partners. Major contributors and collaborators also included longtime corporate sponsors, community-based organizations, and resident associations.
We joyously celebrated our 15th year of bringing positive social change at our November Quinceañera with 220 past, present, and future “CommUniverCitans” and commendations from city, state, and national elected officials. Four months later, San Jose State, Santa Clara County, and much of the nation shut down as schools and businesses went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of our projects that centered around in-person engagement had to be cancelled. Other projects moved online. Student staff moved back home. The cornerstone of CommUniverCity activity–being out in the community–wasn’t feasible in its traditional form.
So, we pivoted. Thanks to the hard work and open-mindedness of sponsors, project partners, faculty and students, and CommUniverCity staff we developed alternative ways of reaching out, teaching our emerging Spanish-speaking resident leaders how to use Zoom and hosting how-to workshops on using social media platforms to local businesses. SJSU students switched up their plans from leading face-to-face workshops this spring to making engaging do-it-yourself videos on engineering and entrepreneurship. We put together family-based garden kits and distributed them to local families. Somehow, we made things work.
Despite this year’s upheaval, we find much to be thankful for. In April the respected Bay Area urban policy think tank, SPUR, honored CommUniverCity with its 2020 Impact Award for Community Advocacy. We are also happy to be one of the three founding institutions leading the Northern California Environmental Justice Network, together with colleagues at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities. And by grassroots request, CommUniverCity’s geography expanded to include projects in South Santa Clara County and the Alum Rock corridor of east San Jose.
The road ahead still holds many unknowns. However, one thing we know for sure is that CommUniverCity will continue its holistic approach to making great neighborhoods for everyone through university learning projects that strengthen community health, increase educational achievement, and improve neighborhood infrastructure.
Katherine Kao Cushing, Ph.D.