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News: Learning in the Hood

It's a long way from Oxford to Over-the-Rhine

By CityBeat Staff · April 18th, 2007 · News
J.D. Cutter

Fall 2006 was the inaugural semester for the Miami University Over-the-Rhine Residency Program. Twelve students participated, integrating academics with a full immersion experience, living and working in inner-city Cincinnati.

Most of Miami's student body is white and affluent, so the experience was sometimes startling -- and always instructive. Architecture Professor Tom Dutton asked the students to evaluate the semester. These are some of their responses

"Before setting foot in Over-the-Rhine, poverty didn't exist. Secluded by the picket fences, cul-de-sacs, half-acre lawns and strip malls, my perception was that everyone had the resources and money necessary to live in America. I also believed in the idea of economic opportunity for everyone. However, Over-the-Rhine hit me like a bat hitting an apple. Everything that made sense crumbled."

-- Andrew Shreiner

"The environment is lively, very different from Oxford or other small, suburban towns most Miami students come from. Even ordinary things are amazing: ice cream trucks, people saying 'Hello' to strangers, neighbors watching out for each other.

A community exists in Over-the-Rhine. People aren't put on social pedestals; when you're all struggling, you look out for each other, and that's what's important. People make you feel like you're a part of the community without even knowing you."

-- Shawn Thomas

"My semester in Over-the-Rhine has had a profound impact on me. It has altered the direction of my future and, most potently, on the way that I think. I plan to live and work in Over-the-Rhine after I graduate. My thematic sequence was instrumental in this: It gave me the knowledge I needed to understand not only what is happening in Over-the-Rhine but also the current state of affairs of our country and, by extension, the entire world. Our classroom knowledge supplemented our real-world learning, which for me took the form of community service with Over-the-Rhine Community Housing. I am a better person because of all of this. I am more compassionate and more understanding in regard to other people."

-- Chris DeLuca

"Although reluctant at first to admit it, I began to understand my own racial isolation. Living in Over-the-Rhine definitely helped this process. Being the minority in OTR contrasted so drastically (with) life in Oxford that it was easier for me to see how white my life in Oxford really is. One day my boyfriend, Justin, and I were going to the Kroger in Oxford. The grocery store was neither overcrowded nor deserted, but there were no black people! Aisle after aisle I purposefully searched for one, just one, black shopper -- or employee, for that matter. None. I was outraged at Oxford, at the nation and at myself for buying into it all."

-- William Lohr

"Living, studying and working in Over-the-Rhine for a semester allowed me to develop a political understanding and passion for equality. I studied and became involved in the trials of the homeless and their fight for affordable housing and an adequate minimum wage. I re-evaluated my priorities, not always consciously. I learned not to 'sweat the small stuff' and now value relationships, self-reflection, activism -- fighting to make a change and supporting my community -- over many of my past, often insignificant priorities."

-- Rachel Rhodebeck

"The other thing that I think I was not accustomed to is standing up for my belief systems. My sister, the successful accountant and self-proclaimed conservative because she 'doesn't like taxes,' has been one of my largest feuds this semester. And while I don't think I have convinced her that self-determination isn't the only school of thought out here, I have at least gotten her to think about it, which is a start. And having to put up with drunk fraternity brothers calling you a 'n***er lover' because I stand up for the residents in Over-the-Rhine is certainly a shift. I realize that people might not take this issue as seriously as I and that being down here is much different than being in Oxford as well as other places around the nation. So I will have to come to terms with that."

-- Jeffrey Kruth



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