In 2014, after the violent rape and murder of Letitia Davis in Fairmount Park, WSU launched its Enough is Enough Campaign to help address community concerns in the nearby Fairmount neighborhood. Initially, the university’s efforts focused on the Fairmount Neighborhood. However, as initially planned, the university expanded their outreach to include strengthening the identity and economic sustainability of all neighborhoods around the campus.
Earlier this month, the university began a renewed effort to address the concerns of and services to this expanded area, now referred to as the Shocker Neighborhood. The geographic area for the Shocker Neighborhood is bound by Interstate 135 on the west, Oliver on the east, Kansas Highway 96 on the north and Center on the south.
While the university’s Office of Engagement is leading the effort, they’re supported by a coalition of neighborhood businesses, nonprofits, churches, the Wichita Police Departments, USD 259 and community organizations working together to bring prosperity to the neighborhood and its residents.
The coalition hosted their second meeting at the Atwater Center to discuss their future collective impact on northeast Wichita communities. At the meeting, the Office of Engagement tasked the 30 attendees with working in groups to brainstorm tangible, actionable items the Shocker Neighborhood Coalition could help solve and how they could come together with community members to achieve them.
After discussing several important topics, like better sidewalk lighting and infrastructure, the groups identified education and food insecurity as the top concerns the neighborhood coalition could address within the community -.
Lonnie Barnes, a longtime community activist, raised concerns about WSU’s history of disenfranchisement and lack of investment in its surrounding community. While pleased with the initial meeting, he encouraged the university’s commitment to further reaching out to engage and work with the community and local non-profits.
“ WSU has sat in the heart of the black community for years, and there has been very little interaction between both sides, '' said Barnes. “ Our voices unified is what’s going to help, doing a survey that shows what 30 people want doesn't make it a whole community issue.”
Naquela Pack, Director of the Office of Engagement at WSU, acknowledged the university's past limited interaction with and support of its nearby neighbors and hoped the office’s revitalization of the neighborhood coalition could serve as an opportunity to close that gap.
“ Part of our mission as a public research institution is to work alongside and build with the community. It's going to be a priority of ours to get into all of the Shocker’s neighborhood and tap in with community members,” said Pack.
WSU launched the Enough is Enough campaign, with a $250,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation. They began by conducting a comprehensive survey to understand the community's perceptions and needs better. They eventually used some of the funding to improve the lighting in Fairmont Park, update the park’s tennis and basketball facilities, and organize a medical mission event in the park that provided free medical services to members of the community.
In addition, WSU’s Shocker commitment has included support to future Shockers growing up in the Shocker Neighborhood. That initiative includes the new Shocker Promise scholarship that provides last-dollar funding to make attending WSU more attainable for students from the Shocker Neighborhood. The program also makes available five programs to support the personal and academic success of Shocker Neighborhood students who attend WSU. Included in the programs is PASS, Promoting Academic Student Success, a program that facilitates the retention, academic success and timely graduation of underrepresented students at WSU through academic support services, educational and cultural programming and mentoring.
In addition to education, WSU’s commitment to the Shocker Neighborhood is in four areas:
Community Development, and
Health and Wellness.
During the meeting, Pack also announced the Office of Engagement’s new partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA, which sponsors a Vista member to work alongside Pack and the Engagement office to strengthen their efforts on building up the Shocker Neighborhoods
Community members are encouraged to attend the next Shocker Neighborhood Coalition meeting, Jan. 10, from 4- 5 p.m. at the Atwater Center. For more information about the Shocker Neighborhood Coalition or to join, contact. firstname.lastname@example.org.