An Analysis of the Parkland Communities: Together We Stand…

“PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care—for other people, for their communities and for the Earth.”

– PLU Mission Statement

PLU is noted for its commitment to diversity, justice and sustainability.  As a university, it is adamant about preparing students for lives of service and care — for other people, and for those involved in the university.  As the first American university to simultaneously have study away programs on all seven continents, PLU has received prestigious awards for internationalization and sustainability (plu.edu).  These accolades are impressive, and demand well deserved credit.  However, the PLU community cannot be blinded by its successes so much so that it does not understand how it can continue to improve.  One of the university’s faults manifests as an absent presence in the surrounding community of Parkland.  The city of Parkland and Pacific Lutheran University share a common location, but are two very different social groups.  The university is a privileged branch stemming from the less privileged community of Parkland.  This complicates the relationship between Parkland and PLU because they try to act separately, when in reality they could work together and form one community.   PLU prides itself on outreach and community help, but not enough service is put into the surrounding community.  Therein lies the problem PLU and Parkland face.   PLU is a privileged bubble living inside a neglected community and can help solve the problem of a divided social area by increasing the quality and quantity of service put into the Parkland community.  PLU and Parkland should make efforts in engaging with one another because both would benefit from the interaction. There would be better understanding between the two communities, effectively bringing the two groups together.

Problems

A community, or social area, can be defined as a group of people who are socially interdependent.  They participate in discussions, decision-making, and share practices that characterize the community (Wellman).  In order to have a successful social group, psychologists David Chavis and David McMillan state that communities must provide a sense of belonging for members.  There must be “a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan and Chavis).  By these definitions, it is clear that both Parkland and PLU are communities.  PLU functions through the dependency between scholars and a higher education, giving members a sense of belonging and togetherness.  Elements of community can also be seen in the Parkland body.  They share common practices and are characterized differently from surrounding communities.  This sense of social group can also come from the interaction of people brought together by similar interests and common goals.   By combining the two definitions, it is clear that mutual interdependence among members, a sense of belonging and shared values or goals are essential elements in the forming of a community.  (Wellman).  One important factor to note is that while separate communities may share similar tendencies, they do not share these elements together.  PLU students flock the Paradise Bowling alley on Pacific Avenue weekly for discounted prices, and the Parkland community partakes in leagues.  However, there is no overlap between the two communities.

PLU_Parkland Map

Pacific Lutheran University is shown located directly in the middle of Parkland. (Google Maps)

As the university has grown and the surrounding city has developed there have been many historical changes that contribute to the divided communities.  While the different growth rates of Parkland and PLU create a distance, socioeconomic status plays a large role in creating differences between the two populaces.  In 2012, the estimated average Parkland household income was $45,809 (City Data).  The price for an individual to attend Pacific Lutheran University for the 2013/2014 academic year was $45,866.  These numbers alone show the differences between the PLU student body and its surrounding community.  As it costs more for a year of higher education than the average income for a Parkland household, there is a divide between groups because of privilege — or their access to wealth.  While a monetary value is important to look at, it directly correlates to the mobility, stability, and ultimately, the opportunity of the Parkland community.  In essence, there is a certain comfortable lifestyle that money can provide.  Unfortunately for some Parkland residents, this comfort is lacking.  When there is a positive flow of money, it becomes much easier to live a stable life.  If an individual is not happy with their current living situation, they can relocate.  Opportunities become much more accessible when sufficient funds are present.  Once an individual has money, they can finally stop thinking about how to obtain it — or how to get rich — and instead focus on the smaller aspects of life.  As Zygmunt Bauman explains in his book Society Under Siege, a person’s desire is what drives them to become a consumer (Bauman, Sect. 5).  When an individual has sufficient funds, they can focus on making their desires a reality.  With privilege comes a form of comfort that lulls individuals through the rush of the materialistic life society is focused on.  Unfortunately for the Parkland community, not all residents have the peace of mind that comes with full pockets; thereby making life much harder for some.  This contrast in privilege can create an uneasy tension between students and residents as it is difficult to relate to one another when both sides are on different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Community garden at PLU on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Community garden at PLU on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

While located on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the contrast between interests and ages for either community further separates them.  For students — who are mainly between the ages of 18 and 24 — , they are attracted to Pacific Lutheran University for the sake of obtaining an education.  Whereas for the individuals that live in Parkland — where the median age is 35 — they are focused on their career and family (City Data).  This conflict of interests is another barrier between communities as individuals in each group will focus on different areas of life depending on their age.  Similar to the struggles faced when linking groups on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, it is very difficult to create a community that does not share interests.  When individuals are emotionally invested in a joint topic, they “share [an] emotional connection [which] equals contact and high quality interaction” (McMillan and Chavis, 322).  For the two social groups, there are minimal interactions that create joint and positive emotions.  It is important to note that neither community is at fault, however both are focusing on different aspects of life.  Parkland residents are occupied in their careers while students are fully immersed in their education. PLU and Parkland share few interests, and therefore have little quality interaction.

Culinary Boot Camp, a community class held at the Garfield Book Company and taught by PLU chiefs on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (Photo/John Froschauer)

Culinary Boot Camp, a community class held at the Garfield Book Company and taught by PLU chiefs on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (Photo/John Froschauer)

While there are many reasons for social barriers to be in place between Parkland and PLU, there are many contributing factors that maintain them.  The divide is made up by different social stigmas between each community.  For PLU students, there is a sense of security living on campus.  There is a common fear among the PLU student body that Parkland is a dangerous place.  To those students feeling threatened by the Parkland community, most choose to fortify inside the “safe zone” of PLU and never get off campus to experience what Parkland has to offer (Blakely & Snyder, 4).  As argued by Krech, Crutchfield and Ballachey, “Social areas are inhabited by persons who tend to be similar in their political and other attitudes, and they are remarkably stable over time, despite the high rate of turnover of their inhabitants” (Krech, Crutchfield & Ballachey, 326).  This definition of social area fits the PLU campus well as there are new students who come in and replace the students who graduate each spring.

Solutions

While it is unfortunate that the PLU and Parkland communities do not function as one, the important part is that we strive to bring the divided communities together.  In order to do so, it is important to foster community through both the quality and quantity of interaction.  For PLU students this means taking a step outside of comfort zones and put into practice the PLU mission statement.  As a university, PLU seeks to educate students through service — for other people, and their community.  What better place to start than with the community PLU is located in.  By offering the service of PLU students, socialization between the two communities will happen and relationships can be forged.

According to R. H. Cutler, the more personal information that is disclosed between individuals, the more likely they are to establish trust, seek support, find satisfaction, and strengthen a community.  This claim is backed through observations that social interaction via friendship support is directly related to success and socialization (Rovai).  To add to a sense of community, there needs to be a spirit of community.  This means that the relationship cannot be one sided, it must be reciprocal.  Students must be able to connect and learn from the Parkland community as residents gain a better understanding from the students. The new dependent relationship denotes membership and encompasses feelings of “friendship, cohesion, and bonding” that develop among individuals as they enjoy one another and look forward to time spent together (Rovai).  In order to create a community, individuals need to feel a sense of connectedness, they need to feel as if they are included in a group before one can be formed.  A community must also have elements of credibility and benevolence between members.  As stated by Alfred Rovai, credibility is an expectation that individuals in the community can be relied upon.  Manifesting credibility in the relationship between PLU and Parkland is key.  As Rovai explains, credibility can be built through benevolence and a “genuine interest in the welfare” of other members of the community (Rovai).

PLU Education students work with kindergarden students from Kent on science projects at PLU on Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

PLU Education students work with kindergarten students from Kent on science projects at PLU on Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

PLU has been characterized as having a benevolent community.  In fact, the sense of community on campus is an element of attraction for many prospective students.  Being a member of the global community is paramount to the PLU mission statement.  Studying away is encouraged because faculty and staff have realized the learning potential studying away offers.  Students are able to serve, and learn at the same time. PLU is not made up of bad students that do not care about their surroundings.  But rather does not understand the amount of good they could provide to the Parkland community.  For students who have offered their service to the community, the result has been positive.  There are over 200 hundred PLU students who tutor and mentor five different Parkland public schools.  The Parkland Education Initiative (PEI) strives to “enhance the college-going culture and help kids to thrive academically and socially” (plu.edu/service).  PEI was created in order to connect local K-8 youth with college students through “meaningful relationships and learning” (plu.edu).  The service provided benefits both PLU and Parkland students by developing skills, knowledge and values that lead to a stronger community.  Another example of how PLU and Parkland have collaborated is through the Healthy Parkland Initiative.  The HPI seeks to improve healthy food access for Parkland residents.  Volunteers offer their time to help with public gardens that grow organic produce served at the monthly community meals.  These are great opportunities for students to give back to their community and also connect with members of Parkland.  PLU has partnered with many organizations striving to do good in the community.  They have helped provide hope to men, women and children who need shelter through contributing with the Rescue Mission Tacoma.  Students have helped build the largest Habitat for Humanity neighborhood to date.  Through these examples of service, it is clear that there is a connection between Parkland and PLU.  However, the community could grow through more service.  While the growth of communities is important, the joint development of a unified community is what Parkland and PLU should strive for.  An increase in collaboration would mean that Parkland residents would become more involved in the university and vice versa.  It would open up new outlets for students and residents to learn, socialize and work.

PLU Education students work with kindergarden students from Kent on science projects at PLU on Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

PLU exhorts the importance of bridging gaps between communities because there is value in learning from others.  It is the combined effect of understanding culture through the interactions of different groups of people that makes studying away so important to Pacific Lutheran University.  PLU is known for its study abroad programs, which focus on going to a new environment and learning from that community, but also leaving a positive impact.  There are programs offered around the globe, even one as close to campus as Tacoma.  However, there are some on campus that question: “what about Parkland?”  Parkland is a community that has become overlooked despite there being incredible value for both PLU and Parkland to grow as a singular community.  For students, just like studying away, they will learn and be influenced by a different culture.  For Parkland residents, they too will gain a better understanding of PLU and what the mission of this institution is for its students.  Students will gain a first hand account and see how communities form, change, and function.  Parkland residents will gain social, economical, emotional and physical benefits from the merging of communities.

Celebration of Service at PLU on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Celebration of Service at PLU on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

All elements that add to community can be achieved through service.  Groups of people are brought together by serving one another.  By acting on benevolence and caring about the surrounding community, students can begin to repair the divide put in place through years of social separation of the Parkland communities.   It is important for the Parkland community and PLU to grow together because neither side is going to leave the area.  Both PLU and Parkland have been coexisting alongside one another since PLU was established in 1890, however the divide between communities has only grown.  As one community, both social groups can benefit from the other.  Instead of simply existing next to one another, PLU and Parkland can develop a much stronger community by breaking down the barriers between social groups

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