Good Neighbors, Working Together to Solve Our Communities’ Biggest Problems
Even as we emerge from the worst of winter’s COVID-19 spike, the pandemic has us all thinking about what it means to be a good neighbor. That is certainly true at Northwestern.
As the University’s executive director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, I think we have an important opportunity — an obligation, even — to help Evanston and Chicago build back stronger and more resilient in the face of this global crisis, which has exposed uncomfortable truths about global inequity and reminded us yet again that Northwestern is inextricably linked to our home communities.
Indeed, our actions affect the health and safety of everyone around us. We breathe the same air. We send our children to the same schools. We shop at the same stores and eat at the same restaurants.
We are all in this together.
But the issues we face are complex, and they can feel overwhelming at times. When we work together and seek ways to achieve common good, we can address our most difficult shared challenges, including systemic racism, climate change, educational disparities and holes in the social safety net. As the pandemic has taught us, we’re stronger when we coordinate our efforts and tackle tough issues in unison.
For example, when the economy contracted at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, Northwestern and Evanston opened a food pantry to support families in need. In addition, our Institute for Policy Research has been tracking and analyzing the root causes of food insecurity to figure out the logistical challenges that undermine food donation efforts.
In collaboration with High Jump, an enrichment program for students of limited economic means, Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy launched the Community Scholars Program for middle schoolers in Evanston and Chicago.
To dismantle systemic barriers like these faced by historically marginalized communities, Northwestern is investing in programs that support minority entrepreneurs, arts organizations, undocumented residents and socially isolated older adults, while also providing seed money for a guaranteed income pilot program for Evanston households.
Projects like these are mutually beneficial because they help strengthen our communities while serving to advance Northwestern’s mission. Indeed the “win-win” sustains our ability to recruit world-class scholars, researchers and students while attracting a talented work force. But the benefits don’t stop there.
Taking on real-world challenges — in the lab, classroom or community — can fuel a sense of ownership in our work. Faculty, staff, students and alumni all want to see Northwestern be a force for positive change.
The pandemic has exposed even greater divides both globally and locally. And there’s no doubt we’re at our best when we act as good neighbors do, working together to help bridge those gaps and solve our most pressing problems.
I encourage you to learn more about Northwestern’s community partnerships and how we can best assist you or your organization.