RAYMOND-GARCIA: Rutgers affiliates can do more to be involved in local community
Opinions Column: Bridging the Divide
While talking to a New Brunswick resident, I learned that there are people at the University who actively told students that the neighborhood is unsafe and to not to trust those who occupy the city. By resident, I don’t mean your local college student who takes up off-campus space for a few years and moves on, but an actual local who lives with all the benefits and consequences that come with residing within Hub City.
To be honest, I was both shocked and not surprised about learning this for a few reasons. I had thought the reputation the city had to students was because of aesthetics, rumors or something along those lines. However, I know Rutgers as a whole doesn’t do enough to reach out a hand to the city in which it is located, both now and in the past. The fact that University officials and students alike are speaking to a topic they (more likely than not) have little knowledge of is truly disheartening because many of us at Rutgers don’t take the time to get to really know the neighborhood and its people.
I’m not here to tell you there isn’t crime in the city — of course there is. Crime is everywhere. My intent is to try and give you a glimpse of what kind of city New Brunswick is from the outside perspective of a student not from the area who works heavily with and for the community. While a large majority of the city is comprised of Oaxaca Mexicans, there are also Dominicans, Puerto-Ricans, Cubans, West Indians, African-Americans and more kinds of people that live in this hodgepodge city. This city is a gem, from the kids you can see volunteering at the community gardens off of George Street, to the bodegas that you can find scattered throughout the neighborhood, and I’m worried that it’s suffering more than it needs to because the Rutgers population time and time again neglects it.
There are a ton of issues the neighborhood has to deal with at any given time. As much as I would love to tell you in detail about all of them, I’ll narrow it down to a few that you can be a part of changing. As a side-note, do feel free to utilize the research done on New Brunswick to learn more!
New Brunswick is a food desert and there are many families that go hungry more often than not because of this. The supermarket in town that provides the most fresh produce is Key Food, which as many of us college students know, only recently opened in place of the former Fresh Grocer. There are some smaller markets in town, but many offer processed foods more than anything else. There are a lot of reasons for this lack in fresh and wholesome food, but to try and keep it short and simple, many families find it easier and cheaper to prepare and eat foods that don’t take a lot of time and are “ready to eat” because of the life circumstances they’ve been dealt and may have little to no control over.
The educational system in New Brunswick does its best to give its students a comprehensive education with the limited resources it’s given, but it still struggles. The youth of the district learn how to manage overcoming adversity while still doing their best in a school-based setting. Teachers in the schools are motivated by their pupils’ willingness to show up to school and learn despite all of the obstacles in their way.
In case you were wondering, there are a ton of ways to get involved as an affiliate of Rutgers who wants to give back to the community you and me are a part of. There are a number of programs that run out of The Collaborative, which is how I first got involved, that would make you a long-term volunteer and put you at the center of the city’s issues to try and help remedy them. They can help you be a part of ending food insecurity or help mentor a student in the neighborhood. There are even easier ways to help if you find that you have more on your plate than you can manage! Take a walk into the neighborhood and get a feel for it and its people. Put money into the local economy by getting your hair and nails done and then getting a bite to eat at the mouth-watering restaurants along French Street, most of which are family-owned businesses.
All I’m saying is, we, as Rutgers affiliates, should do better to bridge the gap between the University and the city because what better way to show Rutgers pride than being involved in and with the neighborhood we’re a part of?
Vanessa Raymond-Garcia is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in women’s and gender studies and public policy. Her column, “Bridging the Divide,” runs monthly on Thursdays.
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