Editorial by Jason Blackwell, News Editor
Another semester has come to a close here at Truman, but a new one will soon begin in only a few short weeks after the winter break. And though my time as a non-traditional student this fall has reached its end, I will always remember the lessons learned about community inside and outside of the classroom.
Let me explain. It has been more than 20 years since I first attended classes as an undergraduate student and almost 12 years since I completed my Masters of Business Administration. In many regards, I thought that my formal education was finished and that my days as a student were finally behind me. But the reality of learning is that even upon obtaining a degree, be it a Bachelor’s or a Doctorate, your education never ends. Community Colleges often serve as a means for bridging the gap and filling this need.
The City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) reportedly is the largest community college system in the state of Illinois and one of the largest in the nation. Truman (officially Harry S Truman College) in the Uptown community is one of the seven colleges within this system. Similar to other two-year public institutions throughout the nation, Truman plays a vital role in helping many students to prepare to transfer to four-year institutions and serves as their first step towards obtaining a Bachelor’s degree. For me and others who are already working professionals, Truman offers credit and continuing education courses to enhance or develop workforce skills, train for a new career as well as provide opportunities to participate in community enrichment programs. The demographics of students within classes, therefore, can vary widely.
The diversity within Truman’s classrooms echoes that of the Uptown community. The college draws students from a vast range of demographics encompassing age, gender, ethnicity, social and economic backgrounds as well as life experiences. Although differences of this sort can present challenges as has been played out within the surrounding neighborhood, it also creates opportunities to foster conversation, learning and growth.
As an undergraduate student at a private university in Upstate New York, I experienced the ongoing tension that existed between fellow students and the local residents. With the university’s campus literally sitting perched on a hill, students were often perceived to be and criticized for looking down on the town and its residents. The affluence and appearance of privilege of some students often collided with the more modest working class culture of the town. Partly for this reason, some students seldom ventured off-campus. Their entire college experience was confined to the boundaries of the university.
In Uptown, there is not a hill to perch Truman upon. For better or worse, the problems and challenges of the community do not stop at the doors of the college. Given that the school is within an urban community that faces challenges with crime, homelessness and a host of other socioeconomic issues, Truman students do not have the option to turn a blind eye to the surrounding neighborhood. This factor thrusts them into the position of either being part of the solution or another source for conflict.
Some day years from now, I may very well need to freshen up some skills or even learn a new one in order to remain competitive in the workforce or just for enrichment. For whatever the purpose I choose to undertake another course, it is good to know that community college provides a viable option.