Coming together for the second Town-Gown Advisory Board (TGAB) meeting of the year, city officials, community members, professors and students were met with a presentation on Binghamton University’s plans to revitalize areas of Johnson City for its health sciences campus, but learned little about the details of TGAB’s progress on proposals put forth by subcommittees in October.
The meeting, held in the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator on Tuesday evening, lasted almost two hours, but board members spent about 30 minutes discussing the status of their committee proposals. Of the 33 members on the board, 25 attended the meeting.
The board consists of five subcommittees, focused on student housing, safety, promoting and cultivating positive community engagement, transportation and parking and dangerous underage drinking. Each subcommittee proposed at least one plan or project at the TGAB meeting on Sept. 21, and TGAB publicly announced five proposals that had been funded at a meeting on Oct. 24.
At Tuesday’s meeting, each subcommittee described their initial proposals and said they were doing well. Only two, the underage drinking and promoting and cultivating positive community engagement subcommittees, provided a detailed update on the status of their project.
The underage drinking subcommittee’s project focuses on gathering information from underage students in Binghamton in an effort to form a data-driven approach to combating dangerous drinking. The project received $20,000 in funding and is being conducted in partnership with the Binghamton Campus Community Coalition (BCCC), which aims to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse and includes representatives from the Binghamton mayor’s office, Binghamton Police Department, Broome County Health Department, local business owners and offices on campus that deal with students at risk for alcohol and drug abuse.
According to Sean Massey, a TGAB member and associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at BU, the committee has been analyzing data collected from students on intoxication and sexual encounters and aims to continue its research throughout the 2019-20 academic year.
“We’ve been exploring a set of data collected over the past five semesters regarding intoxication and the question of consent during sexual encounters,” Massey said. “We’re preparing for the fall semester, when we’d plan to have a team of research assistants, in groups of two and wearing distinct T-shirts, go around campus and State Street, possibly attend parties, with the intention of interviewing students at the start of the evening to ask about their motivations, expectations and the precautions they plan to take related to drinking, recreational drug use and sexual activity.”
The subcommittee for promoting and cultivating positive community engagement announced its “Cry, Laugh, Create” proposal in October. The project aims to encourage BU students and Binghamton residents to share personal stories and build relationships. Myra Sabir, associate dean of BU’s College of Community and Public Affairs and associate professor of human development, said the project has been successful so far, and participants have seen positive changes while connecting with others.
“We’re looking at [how,] over time, people tend to stabilize their housing and find some family stabilization, they return to school, parenting things change,” Sabir said. “We’re measuring all those [positive changes].”
Other committees had plans that were less detailed. Representatives from the student housing subcommittee said they are considering a number of options for a new proposal in May, including an online program specific to off-campus housing and a landlord credit program that would require landlords to meet certain standards to be advertised by the University. The subcommittee did not provide details on the status of its current proposal, which aims to train interns to inform and assist students with off-campus housing.
Randall Edouard, co-chair of TGAB, interim dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, said he wants students to know how much the University cares about, and wants to positively impact, the surrounding community.
“There are projects going on here that directly impact the communities, and it’s all about finding out about the people of the community and interacting with the University,” Edouard said. “We wanted to have a board that was functional and real, so we put out our proposals, fund them and execute them.”
Edouard also touted the variety of active proposals being undertaken by subcommittees, and the range of ideas being considered for new proposals in May.
“There’s a whole bunch of projects to improve safety, the streets, businesses, so on and so forth,” he said. “It’s really gearing toward being a win-win for everybody. Our president, provost and president of student affairs wanted to have a board that was functional and real — gotta put your money where your mouth is.”
The rest of the meeting was devoted to the presentation, which was given by John Frazier, the project’s leader and a SUNY distinguished service professor of geography, and Kevin Heard, associate director of the Geography Information Systems (GIS) core facility and an adjunct lecturer of geography. It discussed the Johnson City Redevelopment Project, an initiative that aims to create a ‘story map’ of Johnson City, including videos, photos and other data, to assist with the revitalization of the area.
Kaitlyn Smolar, a sophomore majoring in human development, said she was excited to hear about the project and was previously unaware how many changes will likely be taking place in Johnson City in the future.
“It’s interesting to see how big of an impact this has on every sector of the community,” Smolar said.
But even that project is moving slowly. Although it’s been three years since the project began, Frazier said the revitalization of Johnson City and the redevelopment project’s effects will not be palpable for several more years, as the team is in the process of surveying students’ and community members’ preferences and needs.
“What’s going on there is a slow process — everybody wants to know, ‘What’s happening right now?’ It’s tied to economic development, so you don’t really realize that the impacts are going to happen, but they’re not going to happen overnight,” Frazier said. “We’ve gotta watch carefully. I encourage my own students to stay engaged with it, and you’ve got to be patient, but observant.”