Inner-city revitalization through education

University of Winnipeg’s Urban Studies Department doing it right

The University of Winnipeg’s Urban and Inner-city Studies department has clued in to a key for increasing education success in the inner-city, and in turn is transforming Winnipeg communities.

 The program uses its location to bridge the gap between the poorer end of the city and the rest. “Instead of saying to people in

the North End ‘why don’t you come to University?’ we’ve done it the other way around and brought University to them,” Jim Silver, professor and chair of the faculty, says.

The North End has been segregated from the rest of Winnipeg for the past century, creating a pocket of poverty and violence. A large problem the area is now facing is a cycle of poverty and low education levels.

“In some North End neighbourhoods, about 20-25% [of] students graduate on time compared to about 90% in the suburbs,” Silver reports.

The Urban and Inner-city Studies program makes education available to low-income students by using the UW Opportunity

Fund to pay for tuition and books for the first year for those in need. It then works with students to find further funding as they continue with their degree.

“We offer here an environment that is very different from main campus,” says Silver. “We know our students’ first names, we know their family situation, provide a whole host of extra supports.”

40-50% of the students there now are from the inner-city. Cheyenne Henry, program coordinator and department assistant says that many come from difficult backgrounds, including “poverty, crime, addiction, abuse... the list can go on.”

Silver and two others in the four person faculty are members of the Manitoba Research Alliance group which has published many works, in addition to winning an international award this year from the Community Campus Partnerships of Health for the strength and quality of the university’s community connections.

Some of its research on adult aboriginal education programs has found that a huge factor in their educational success is that “they incorporate a strong cultural component so they reconnect aboriginal people with their cultural heritage,” Silver says.

“One of the things that colonization has done is to separate aboriginal people from their cultural heritage and that creates problems.”

Those who rediscover that positive aspect of themselves bring it back to the community.

“The positive thing is the amount of resiliency in these students,” confirms Henry.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of metamorphosis that the faculty is creating in the inner-city is its plan to extend the campus into its neighbour, the old Merchants Hotel. This hotel was renowned for its criminal activity, and drug deals were a frequent sighting on the sidewalk out front. The hotel was bought by the province in 2012, and will be turned over to a non-profit community organization. The Urban and Inner-city Studies department will share the building with CEDA-Pathways (Community Education Development Association) to Education. The faculty plans on using space in the building for new classrooms, and transforming the back lot into housing for its students.

It will help change a negative reputation to “a symbol of everything that is positive,” Silver says.

Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)

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