In a January, 2003 article for the Currents, “Where is Riverwest? ” Dan
Knauss wrote that Riverwest is "in-between space—porous, amorphous, and
not as fixed in its identity—or as rigid—as some other neighborhoods"
with "an interesting future that you can help create." As students
living here at RiverView, we feel that we are also in an “in-between
space,” and our goal during this past semester was to act as a bridge
between UW-Milwaukee’s campus and Riverwest’s community. In this way,
we hoped to be involved in Riverwest's community as Knauss invited six
years ago—contributing to its identity and helping to create its future.
We are RiverView’s Cultures and Communities Living Learning Community, a group of students living together and learning about what it means to be a part of a community and all the diversity and challenges that come along with it. A community occurs when a group of people share space and ideas. It has been our LLC’s privilege to be a part of such a developed community like this one, because a community teaches in a way different from any classroom. For example, a person can learn at a university without ever getting to know the person sitting beside him or her. Our LLC provided us the opportunity to experience a small community within a big city. On the first day of this class, we took a walk around the neighborhood, and saw evidence, in the public art and parks of how involved the people were in the community. Attending events such as Center Street Daze and the Art Walk introduced Riverwest to us as a neighborhood that collectively organizes and works together to create community events.
Being in this class, as well as living in the area, has put us in the middle of Riverwest’s lifestyles and strongly encouraged us to get involved with the community itself. What does it mean to be part of the community? We think it means several things. The first one that comes to mind is spending money locally in the community. However, it also means volunteering or giving back to the community. One of the ways we have been “giving back” is through UWM’s service learning program. Service learning is an academic assignment that takes us into the community for experiences that enhance and enrich our learning about multicultural America. Service learning gave us an opportunity to develop our knowledge of Milwaukee’s diverse communities, Riverwest in particular. Our first service learning project was to write a Neighborhood Spotlight on Jim Hawley for the December edition of the Riverwest Currents. We are very proud of the work that we have done, and by getting to know Jim Hawley, we have learned much from his unique perspective as a longtime resident of Riverwest.
As an English class, we have dissected various texts throughout the semester, one of the first texts being Mary Louise Pratt's "Arts of the Contact Zone." As defined by Pratt, contact zones are "social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in asymmetrical relations of power." During the semester, we discovered that a neighborhood is a prime example of a contact zone. More particularly, the Riverwest neighborhood exemplifies a social space where diversity is celebrated and peoples of various cultures live with one another, inevitably causing clashes and grappling. Sometimes in a contact zone cultures are blended, compromised, and even lost. Balancing several cultures is not an easy task, but Riverwest is a contact zone where a strong sense of community continues to develop as challenges and changes present themselves.
The Riverwest Neighborhood Association meeting was one of our opportunities not only to see how the neighborhood community works as a contact zone, but also to interact and become a part of that community. This meeting seemed the very essence of the community, having a variety of people and opinions in one location and working out differences as they are encountered. It helped us see that being a useful member of a community means not only accepting and adapting to different cultures, but learning to work together and help each other out.
After reading some of past Currents articles, we learned that some of the Riverwest residents were not enthusiastic about RiverView’s presence in the neighborhood, in part on the assumption that the students there would be nothing but trouble. We have found Riverwest to be welcoming, though, and it has been an exciting experience for most, if not all, of us to be living in this community that is so culturally diverse. While it is true that some students get out of control, we hope that our experiences and contributions paint a more positive picture.
Even though the Currents article, “Student Housing 101” paints a contentious picture of students behaving poorly in the communities surrounding UWM, it ends on this note of hope: “Riverwest may be the perfect place for a UWM student to learn what a classroom cannot teach: how to be a good neighbor.” It certainly has taught us, and we hope to remain your good neighbors in the years to come.
You can see more of the work we did this past semester at http://culturesandcommunities.blogspot.com.
The group's name is The Cultures and Communities LLC at RiverView.
Our individual names are:
Kao Seng Thao
Melissa Schoeffel (instructor)