Winston-Salem College Advisory Board highlights student perspectives
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For three-quarters of a year, one group of individuals accounts for roughly 13 percent of Winston-Salem’s population. These individuals do not typically attend city council meetings. They rarely venture downtown, or into the city’s many different neighborhoods. They are the college students, and for the last four years they have begun to speak up on the issues they care about the most.
The city’s college advisory board was started by councilman Derwin Montgomery, who was still in college when he was first elected to the council in 2009. Montgomery’s vision was to engage young people with the rest of the community by bringing their concerns to the council.
City Manager Lee Garrity said the members meet every couple of months and submit an annual report to the council with initiatives they hope to put into action. One of the board’s recent efforts is a mediation system for students at Wake Forest University living off campus and their neighbors when dealing with issues such as noise, trash and parking. The university’s law school is partnering with the advisory council in implementing the free mediation. Garrity said programs like this one are what the advisory board aims to achieve.
“I think we need to find ways to engage them more, as some council members mentioned the other night we need more young people on our boards and commissions and this is a great way to engage young people while they’re still in college and hopefully stay here after they graduate and continue to be involved in local government,” he said.
Jasmine Leak, a senior at Winston- Salem State University, was recently appointed to the board and said she hopes to bridge the gap that exists between the city and its universities. Leak is living off campus for the first time and said one of her biggest concerns is student pedestrians crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Drive during busy times.
“Last year there were a lot of incidents with students crossing MLK where they would be hit by cars,” she said.
Leak said a good safety measure would be to lower the speed limit, currently 35 miles per hour, in order to account for rush hour traffic. She added that a crossing guard could also be helpful for intersections like the one between MLK and Rams Drive.
“If that was offered that would be wonderful,” she said. “We have a crosswalk system but it’s not an immediate system. So if we’re running late for class, you’ll see students run down in front of cars trying to cross the street, you’ll see it all the time. So it’s a two-way thing. The students have to be responsible for themselves as well. And it’s also drivers who are speeding, whether they’re trying to get to work or whatever.”
One of the most common issues for students in the area is a lack of transportation. Erica Sheppard-Debnam, a senior at Salem College recently named to the board, said several classes are cross-listed with Wake Forest and not having a car creates difficulties in getting to class.
Sheppard-Debnam is the president of her campus activities board and a member of the biology honors society. She was recommended by her Dean of Students to serve on the advisory council.
“I just thought that this would be a good way to have students have their voices heard amongst the different communities,” she said. “You don’t know what’s happening on different college campuses.”
Sheppard-Debnam said another challenge for some students is the availability of internships in Winston- Salem. She has completed two summer internships, but they were back in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. She said the only places in the area that offer internships in her field are the labs in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and the hospitals.
“It’s easier for people in business and marketing to get an internship, whereas I’m a biology major and it’s a little bit harder based on the availability,” she said.
Alisha Giri, a senior at Wake Forest, also referred to the transportation issue as a contributing factor to students not exploring the city more.
“There’s really no need to leave campus or learn about the community we’re in, in Winston-Salem,” she said. “A lot of people that I know have never really explored Winston-Salem and the only part that they do know is Wake Forest and the Reynolda Campus.”
Giri said there is a small sector of the student body that frequently gets off campus by performing volunteer work, but most students “live in a bubble.”
“If you go five minutes away from campus it’s like a completely new environment,” she said. “A new culture.”
Patrick Frantz, a student at Forsyth Tech, came to the board in August as part of a partnership between the college and the city. As a student ambassador, Frantz receives a full scholarship that pays his tuition. He said transportation is not a chief issues at Forsyth Tech, but it is something the board has tried to address previously at other colleges.
“I know that in the past the college advisory board has tried to move around bus schedules that don’t interfere too much with the public bus schedules so that people can get here on time, for a good buck to class,” he said.
Frantz said one of his goals in serving on the board is to encourage more students to become involved in local government. He wants them to learn who their legislators are and attend council meetings if possible.
“There’s only so many things we can move on an agenda in a given timeframe of the college advisory board, so right now we’re trying to get people interested, networking with the city and other municipalities as far as jobs and opportunities for them,” he said.
Frantz said that at their meeting last week, board members began planning a summit for 150 students in April where several business and government leaders will be speaking. It will include a job fair, where companies will be set up with at booths and ac- cept resumes. !