Strengthening Relationships with the Community

One distinctive feature of CSP is that it engages with the community around us. Much of our program involves not just studying communities in the abstract, but interacting with and learning directly from Lowell’s community leaders and members.

We are fortunate that the Lowell community gives us such excellent opportunities to do so. These opportunities are found through papers or projects in most CSP courses, through theses, and of course through Practicum.Another opportunity comes from interactions we have with community members within our regular classes. A good example of that comes from the Advanced Community Dynamics class this semester, which focuses on learning about community life in practice, using Lowell as an extended case example.

In this ACD class, students selected topics they wanted to learn more about: Food, Women, Youth, Media, and Parks and Recreation were the top vote-getters. Student teams then took the lead in bringing in small groups of community representatives to talk about that topic with the full class. Thanks to the outstanding enterprise and resourcefulness of our students, we’ve had the chance to meet and learn from a particularly impressive variety of guests, including directors or senior managers from the Lowell Plan, Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club, Girls, Inc., YMCA, Teen Block program, Massachusetts Association of Portuguese Speakers, UMass/Lowell Food Services, Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell Parks and Conservation Commission, and the Lowell Folk Festival, as well as the Editor of theLowell Sun, the Owner and Editor of theKhmer Post, the owners of WCAP radio and of a popular downtown sweet shop, and Lowell’s Director of Community Development.

A related class event is a city-wide forum scheduled for late April, designed to bring together a larger group of community leaders to talk about ideas for Lowell’s future and how they could be put into practice. All are invited to this meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, April 22 from 3:30 ‘ 5:00 p.m. in HSSB 120.

Through these community discussions, we develop closer relationships with our community leaders. These we think benefit not only our students, but the community as well. A basic community psychology principle is that open dialogue tends to foster mutual understanding, appreciation, and trust; this in turn stimulates new ideas, and sometimes new collaborations that can help everyone.

There’s plenty of room for more such dialogue occasions; it’s possible for CSP to take the lead in organizing them. We could plan regular community dialogues on different topics. We could host a community speaker series.We could hold an annual open house. An added advantage here for us is that such visibility also attracts students to our program. And more than that: Since many CSP students go on to work in the Greater Lowell community after graduation, this leads to our having an ongoing network of community contacts in the City and throughout the Merrimack Valley.

Of course, another major opportunity to interact with the community will be our hosting of a national community conference (the SCRA Biennial) in June, 2015, when community psychologists from across the U.S. and beyond will visit our community and our program, and hopefully share ideas and experiences with community members while they are here, so that we can all learn together.

Developing relationships with the community helps everyone. And that’s been a goal of CSP since its beginning ‘ to join with our community members in building better communities, and to help strengthen community life by being resources and supports for one another.

~~ Bill Berkowitz