Campus Volunteer Day: Facilitating Interaction between College Students and At-Risk Youth

Article excerpt

Introduction

Rowena, a graduate student at Buffalo State College (BSC) who works on campus, recalls her participation in a meeting on the subject of enrollment. "I asked `Why don't we use the fact that we're an urban college? Five years ago, that was the big trigger word'." In that meeting, Rowena advocated bringing more students from the immediate vicinity to campus saying, "They can be our student pool.... Take our difference and bring it to our advantage."

The 1997-1999 undergraduate catalog describes BSC as being in "the heart of the City of Buffalo" (p.8). The college is located two miles north of a downtown area comprised of restaurants, shops, theaters, and municipal and federal offices. The campus is bounded by an array of buildings. East of the college is an art museum behind which is a city park, North are factories, West are small business, churches, community centers, and private homes, and South is a psychiatric hospital. Buffalo State College has approximately 11,500 students, most of whom are commuters, many of whom are nontraditional, older students. Buffalo is the second largest city in the state of New York.

Rowena is not alone in her belief that BSC is ideally situated to provide local adolescents, many of whom are at-risk students, with higher education. With the exception of some magnet schools, many inner-city high schools have deteriorating facilities, overcrowded classrooms, and scarce resources leading to poor academic performance, low student self-esteem, and low teacher morale. A good urban university can provide graduates of these schools with an equal opportunity for higher education by offering support through orientation programs and counseling centers and remediation through academic skills centers if necessary. These support services ensure that students who arrive behind do not stay behind. Rowena argues the following.

   Urban kids in the country don't know what they're doing there but Buffalo
   has a large urban center, Toronto nearby, a flagship university with a
   massive library and Division 1, Class A football.... A lot of kids [urban
   high schoolers] don't want to go to rural areas but we have the resources
   to keep them comfortable.

Campus Volunteer Day was conceived in an effort to expose at-risk adolescents to higher education at an urban institution as well as expose commuter college students to the urban community. The initiative is just one of many community service projects of BSC faculty and staff which aid at-risk youth.

Review of the Literature

Bellah et al.'s Habits of the Heart (1985) paints a bleak portrait of American society in which citizens are governed by selfish motivations and individualism prevails. Business leaders seek profit alone. Politicians seek glory. Communities are insular and hostile to potential newcomers. Steve Johnson, a high school teacher who lives in the suburbs, epitomizes this regionalism.

   I wish we could have bought twenty acres back then - twenty acres in the
   back country - and put a moat around it with alligators in it. A good
   community is when you have a complete mixture - enough shopping to meet
   your needs, but not large shopping centers that would bring people in from
   outside the community. I would want to see our community develop as if it
   were an island. (p. 181)

Regionalism is also demonstrated when Mike Conley so callously opposes HUD-sponsored housing in Suffolk for the elderly and Hispanic and African-American families from nearby Boston.

   You put in so many houses and you will take people who are destitute, so
   called, - and within a year they will tear the wallpaper out. They will
   tear the copper pipes out to sell them and buy booze, and if you are within
   a mile of the place, they will rob you and beat you up and rape you. These
   people have no sense of values. (p. 182)

This article will counter Bellah et al. …

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