From June 1-3, I attended the 6th annual International Town & Gown Association University/City Relations Conference in Boulder, Colorado. The conference brought together university officials, city administrators and students from around the United States, Canada and Australia to discuss growing successes and challenges to town-gown relations.
Forty-five conference sessions took place over the three-day conference and covered a variety of topics including transportation, sustainability and being a good neighbor. My attendance at the conference was unique, for I was neither a student nor an administrator for the city or college I went to represent. I attended as a representative of Lafayette College, from which I graduated in May 2010. Several asked why I was there as an alumnus, and several asked what my involvement was with my college now that I have graduated.
During my time at Lafayette, I saw town-gown relations improve greatly with the creation of Lafayette Day in the Square, the return of tours of Downtown Easton for orientation leaders, the implementation of Pard Card dollars for off-campus dining and the expansion of both the Landis Community Outreach Center and Lafayette College in Downtown Easton. I spent my four years at Lafayette working to improve the student-resident relationship; I did not want to be seen solely as student while at Lafayette College but rather as a neighbor.
On the last day of the conference, I spoke on a panel called Town-Gown U-Student Leadership in Action. The panel focused on building the foundation for positive town-gown relations from a student’s perspective. I stressed three important aspects of town-gown relations: volunteerism, education and fun. Easton became more than just the location of Lafayette College; it became my home away from home. But in order for it to feel like home, we needed to introduce students to the community, to volunteer with members of the community, to learn outside the classroom and to enjoy the community as if it were our own.
As an introduction to the community, orientation leaders are taken each year on a tour of Downtown Easton, and the Easton Main Street Initiative holds Lafayette Day in the Square, a day in September to welcome the students back to Easton and introduce the incoming class to the downtown. Through the Landis Community Outreach Center and various student organizations, students get the opportunity to volunteer with community members on specific one-time projects and year-long activities. As a government and law major, I not only attended classes on campus, I attended City Council meetings for two years in addition to using my final two spring semesters for internships with two Pennsylvania state senators. To truly create a sense of “home” in Easton, we held community dinners throughout Downtown Easton, matching a student with a specific major with a resident working in that field. And to add the fun element to town-gown relations, students spent the third Friday of each month taking dance lessons at the Third Street Alliance.
Lafayette College and the Easton community are true partners in town-gown relations, and I was honored to be able to travel to Boulder, Colorado and represent my college and the city that I came to love. I now work as the development and marketing coordinator for Lehigh Valley Zoo and am just forty minutes from my alma mater. I am still able to see the town-gown relationship thrive being so close, and I am excited to continue adding to Lafayette’s history as an active alumnus.