Our student engagement work arose as one of the strategic goals of the Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI), to invite students into the tradition of neighboring. The rapid “studentification” of the historically Black Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin Top neighborhoods in the early 2000s saw an influx of student residents who were unaware of the history and values of the Northside neighborhood, and who viewed off-campus households as an extension of the University. As a result, long-term residents started experiencing more quality of life issues, like noise/nuisance violations, illegal parking, loud and unruly parties, and an overall disruption in neighborhood culture that has existed for generations. Neighbors identified the importance of connecting with and educating students, with the belief that once they knew better, they would be better. And thus began a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, local municipalities, and other community partners to transform students’ relationships with the neighborhoods.
Students experience the rich history, values, and traditions of the Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin Top neighborhoods by engaging as partners in service and advocacy for the community. From delivering grocery boxes to elders, to organizing and volunteering at community events, to working with students at the local Boys and Girls Club, our student service partners continue to provide much-needed support to our various programs and work alongside long-term residents in sustaining our community. While the majority of our student service partners come to us through service-learning course partnerships, we also work with student organizations and individual students who are interested in listening forward into community justice.
Over the past decade, the Jackson Center has engaged with thousands of UNC students and developed transformative opportunities and experiences for young people to work alongside long-term residents to preserve the future of Northside. As a result, we have seen a 75% decrease in noise and nuisance violations, increased student presence in neighborhood events and gatherings, and fostered hundreds of students in building deep, intergenerational relationships with historic residents and families in the neighborhoods.
Being part of our community-first work is an opportunity for students to ask themselves: Who am I in relation to the cultural banquet that is unfolding before me and what do I bring? How can I participate accordingly, with respect and devotion? And then to use their distinct gifts and privileges to bear in serving those community interests in which they have been schooled.