Collaboration, Not Placation

Interaction, collaboration and cooperation by definition are mutual. When an organization, group or person talk about interacting with one another, can it be considered collaboration without an equal exchange?

On the front page of today’s Gazette Times was an article explaining the perspectives of Oregon State University students on life in Corvallis.

Why is the local paper going to the effort of explaining the student perspectives to the residents of the ‘town’? It would seem that by attempting to do so, the onus of responsibility is being placed on the residents of Corvallis to accept the students seeping into every part of the community.

If the students took the time to interact with residents and become involved in the community by volunteering, working, or at least being respectful of their neighbors, then the increasing population would not be a problem. The problems arise when students, or anyone for that matter, focus on themselves to the exclusion of those around them, favoring loud music at any hour to respectfully turning down the volume or plugging in earphones past a certain time, speeding to class in school zones where children may be crossing the street, and stumbling around intoxicated in neighborhoods where families are attempting to live in safety.

Which is not to blame the students. College is a time to explore interests, ideas and values, and is a time when many are figuring out how to live on their own for the first time. The late teens and early twenties are often a time when people focus on personal development. In a larger city the increasing numbers may go unnoticed. In Corvallis, a town of 50,000 with mostly families and retirees, increasing the number of students to over 40 percent of the population produces a harsh change in the community dynamic. Growth has happened quickly, without community input or systems in place to support the swelling population.

Students were quoted in the article as saying that interaction is a two-way street, and that Oregon State University needs to be the one to foster collaboration with the community. It sounds like the students and Corvallis residents may be more on the same page than they’ve realized.

Wherein lies the problem then?

Steve Clark, the vice president of marketing for OSU was quoted as saying that community members need to figure out how to get to know students better, which makes it seem as though it is the University that is blaming the community, and therefore impeding cooperation.

Collaboration, if it is to succeed, will have to come from both sides and will require OSU to start taking responsibility and approaching the community with understanding and willingness to listen, not with a preconceived development agenda.

Suggestions? Start with true community based participatory research. Ask residents what they want, conduct surveys, and take opinions into consideration, integrating them into future plans. Do not ask people their opinions and unceremoniously relegate surveys to a dark corner to collect dust.

Residents know when they are simply being placated. We’re willing to cooperate, but we need the opportunity to do so.


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