Town-Gown Committee Benefits Collective Community
Newly reconstituted committee strengthens the partnership between the College and surrounding community.
More than 8,000 townspeople and more than 8,000 college students share just more than two square miles of land in the Village of Brockport within the Town of Sweden in Monroe County, NY.
In October 2014, a small meeting was the catalyst in transforming the management of the relationship between Brockport’s academic population (the “gown”) and its surrounding community (the “town”). There, a revitalized Town-Gown Committee was established in an effort to enhance communication between these counterparts.
Brockport’s earliest known Town-Gown Committee was established in the late 1960s by former Village of Brockport Mayor Frank Sacheli ’45 and former College President Albert Brown. The committee then went dormant for several years.
“A committee is valuable because it allows the community to be engaged at the College and the College to be engaged in the community,” said Mayor of the Village of Brockport Margaret Blackman. “Not only do we have to learn to live together, we can enrich each other’s lives.”
The committee was first reconstituted under a partnership between Blackman and the College’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Kathryn “Katy” Wilson. Wilson played an integral role in affiliating the College with the International Town & Gown Association, which shares best practices, innovative solutions, and professional development opportunities with municipal and university communities.
“It was evident several years ago that we really needed better lines of communication,” said Wilson. “It’s important when you have a college within a village within a town to open those lines, because we’re really sharing a lot of real estate in close proximity. For exciting things we want to work on, we work together as a group. For issues we need to solve, we work together as a group.”
Now co-chaired by Blackman and Brockport President Heidi Macpherson, who took over Wilson’s role in the committee this fall, the overarching committee of 38 people and its four subcommittees are addressing issues from effective methods of event promotion to alcohol and drug abuse in the community.
One of the president’s initiatives earlier this year was a Town-Gown Committee-planned community breakfast, during which members of the community and the College discussed a number of issues, including the new strategic plan, opportunities for community links, and physical changes to the campus.
“Perhaps one of the most significant things that a community member said to me was that he didn't notice the wall across from Tower Fine Arts Center — until it had been pulled down,” said Macpherson. “[He told me] he felt that the College felt more open and welcoming as a result of that small act. We want to make the campus accessible at all entrances for our students — but also our community. It seems we're already achieving some of our goals.”
The group’s four subcommittees are: Community/College Communications and Outreach, Off-Campus Housing and Neighborhood Quality of Life, Alcohol/Drugs in a College Community, and Walk! Bike! Brockport!. Members meet regularly to discuss issues that affect both the College constituency and surrounding population, then report to the overarching committee during its quarterly meetings.
“Our Town-Gown Committee plays a significant role in the development and communication of our activities,” said Macpherson. “From having our students speak to the committee about their experiences of life in Brockport to conversations with landlords about best practices, we tackle complex and important issues.”
The Community/College Communications and Outreach subcommittee is currently addressing the value of increased College faculty and staff settlement in the community, the importance of devising creative ways to increase community attendance at College initiatives and College attendance at community initiatives, the implementation of new businesses in the community, and the use and revitalization of properties along the Erie Canal.
“The canal is such a great resource,” said Wilson. “The committee has been looking into how to make it more of a tourist destination and recreational site for our community which includes, of course, our students.”
Village government representatives plan to meet with members of the Off-Campus Housing and Neighborhood Quality of Life and the Alcohol/Drugs in a College Community subcommittees to discuss potential legislation concerning off-campus housing, including updates to the Village’s existing Disorderly House Ordinance.
“It’s something we want to put into place by collaborating with the College,” said Blackman.
College and community members on the Town-Gown Committee will reconvene at their next meeting on April 27.