Community Engagement

Collaboration, Research, and Partnerships
JaNesha Slaughter '17

Facing Project

Students Examine Affordable Housing in Asheville, Past and Present

Over the past two semesters UNC Asheville has been one of five colleges and universities in North Carolina to carry out a “Facing Project,” examining a community issue through the collection and sharing of individual stories. For May 2017 graduate JaNesha Slaughter, who coordinated UNC Asheville’s “Facing Project,” this was the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at one of Asheville’s most pressing issues: affordable housing.

“When we have a 1 percent vacancy rate and three people moving here every day, there’s going to be a problem,” Slaughter said. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects African-Americans in the community, and has historically led to the destruction of African-American neighborhoods, Slaughter explained. Urban renewal projects in Asheville in the 1950s-1970s displaced several vibrant black communities, like the one at the city’s East End.

UNC Asheville and other North Carolina schools participating in the Facing Project are all members of North Carolina Campus Compact, a coalition of 36 public and private colleges and universities dedicated to improving community life and educating students for civic responsibility. Slaughter recruited student volunteers for the project to interview local residents with direct experience with the affordable housing issue in Asheville. She then coordinated volunteer training and consultation throughout the project, and coordinated a community theater event to share the collected stories.

“Students can use their academic knowledge, and their position of power, to enact change,” Slaughter said.

One of the student volunteers was first-year student Leah Fagan, who interviewed photojournalist Andrea Clark. Asheville’s East End became the focus of the interview, as Clark is the photographer and author of Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, in which Clark chronicled the daily life of the Asheville neighborhood before and after the impact of urban renewal there.

Through their interview Fagan learned about Clark’s grandfather, who was a contractor in Asheville. “He built a lot of what could be considered landmarks in Asheville: a police station, a church, and he participated a lot in the community,” Fagan said. “He didn’t really get any recognition for that.” Fagan and the other volunteers transformed their interviews into a first-person narrative. Those narratives were in turn performed as monologues in a special performance and discussion event held at the YMI Cultural Center.

“It was very illuminating as to Asheville and some of its shadows,” Fagan said. “It’s an experience I never would have had in Asheville given the color of my skin, which is really valuable, and I hope it’s a message that strikes other people of privilege or other people of circumstances that wouldn’t give them so much plight.”

Fagan’s experience, and the experience of all the student volunteers, was exactly what Slaughter hoped her peers would take away from the Facing Project.

“It’s quintessential service learning, taking the terms that you are learning in class and giving you real-life examples,” Slaughter said. “Students can use their academic knowledge, and their position of power, to enact change.”

Healthy Collaboration

Mission Health and UNC Asheville Enter Into Ambitious New Partnership

UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant (left); Mission Health President and CEO Ronald A. PaulusRonald A. Paulus, M.D., Mission Health President and CEO and UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant, Ph.D., announced in February that the Asheville institutions they lead are entering into a new and ambitious partnership focused on health, wellness, education, and engagement. Their united efforts will result in the creation of a diverse and wide-ranging package of initiatives, including:

  • Healthy Campus Initiative 2020
  • Sports Medicine Services
  • Internships and Employment Opportunities
  • Establishment of Mission Health Scholarships

“We are certain that our alliance with UNC Asheville will result in expanded opportunities for their student body and student athletes, as well as our own team members,” said Dr. Paulus. “Our partnership will lead to a healthier community, prepare the workforce of tomorrow, and raise awareness about UNCA’s mission and our own. This is another important way we are helping our community be well, get well, and stay well.”

The State of Black Asheville

Annual Research Project Prompts $500,000 for Buncombe’s Isaac Coleman Fund

Professor of Political Science Dwight MullenTen years after research into The State of Black Asheville began, the ongoing UNC Asheville student research project has come from the classroom into the community, prompting significant new funding by Buncombe County for community programs addressing the needs of underserved, poor communities.

Annually since 2007, UNC Asheville Professor of Political Science Dwight Mullen has led his students in collecting and presenting an array of data on health, housing, income, education, employment, and incarceration rates—cataloging the severe racial disparities in Asheville. “In pretty much every area the students have looked at, the disparities by race have widened,” said Mullen.

The data moved from the academic sphere into the public sphere this year, when members of the county commission used the research to inform their ultimately unanimous vote in favor of $500,000 in funding for the new Isaac Coleman Community Investment Program to support and expand community efforts to improve health, education, and employment.

“Recognizing that people, especially African Americans, have been left behind, many community organizations and individuals have been trying to do something about it on their own,” said Mullen. “So getting funding to people already engaged in that work is really encouraging.”

Crafting Passages

Professor of Art Brent Skidmore mentors middle schoolers through the Journeymen Asheville program

Students work on building a canoeUNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio at The RAMP opened its doors for classes and community engagement this spring, with one of the first projects taking the shape of hand-hewn canoes. “Crafting Passages” is a venture by Journeymen Asheville and Asheville City School’s Foundation’s In Real Life program that connects boys ages 12-14 from Asheville Middle School with Journeymen mentors, bringing them into STEAM Studio and combining group-mentoring with building skills development. Together, over the course of 16 weeks, they explored their hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations while building boats. 
A view of the progress

Associate Professor of Art and Art History, STEAM Studio co-founder, and Journeymen Asheville Board Member Brent Skidmore hopes the project leads students to be better able to envision themselves in college one day and start to build a path for themselves that leads to higher education.

Of course, that path might be by boat.