CAP grad pioneers new course: Engaging Communities of Color
By Teresa Jeter, PhD, assistant teaching professor of urban planning

Given the current climate in America where there is growing racial tension, disenfranchisement, and the marginalization of vulnerable populations, Scott Truex asked me to develop a course for Fall 2020 that would create a level of awareness and sensitivity about these and other issues that could benefit future urban planners. After thinking long and hard about his request, I created a course called Engaging Communities of Color.

The course provides students with a historical view and current perspectives of urban planning policies, federal regulations, and local planning decisions that have often led to inequities for communities of color. Based on the following engagement criteria of (1) Building Trust, (2) Building Relationships, (3) Building Equity, and, (4) Building Bridges; lectures, assignments, case studies, group discussions, and guest speakers provide a framework upon which students determine how to interact with communities of color.

Building Trust with communities of color requires understanding the history of restrictive covenants, residential segregation, redlining, and other actions that have negatively affected these communities, all of which have led to mistrust when outsiders try to engage them. Students understand that as future urban planners they will likely encounter mistrust in these communities, therefore, building trust is an important first step. Students have the opportunity to think critically and discuss strategies for building trust.

Building Relationships with communities of color requires understanding and accepting cultural differences. Students learn that being aware of cultural differences, examining one’s bias(es) about other cultures, getting to know people from other cultures, and listening to others from different cultures will help to build relationships in communities of color. Students also discover their biases by taking a bias survey.

Building Equity in communities of color is about first understanding that equity is not the same as equality. Students examine the core concepts of both and they develop planning strategies toward equitable outcomes when engaging communities of color.

Building Bridges in communities of color requires understanding, examining, and acknowledging disparities, and exploring actions that help bring community stakeholders alongside community leaders in decision-making for the betterment of the community. Students develop strategies for effective community engagement that help build bridges and remove disparities.

For the final assignment, each student created a planning guide specifically for engaging communities of color.

Students had an opportunity to hear and dialogue with a number of guest speakers. Guest speakers included Dr. Gregory Williams, author of Life on the Color Line; Marlene Dotson, President and CEO of the Indiana Latino Institute; Joy Rediger, President of Urban Light CDC; Mary and Cornelius Dollison, Muncie Whitely Neighborhood community activists; Bishop Bernadel Jefferson, Flint City, Michigan prominent community advocate in the water crisis. Each shared their perspective about how to engage communities of color.

Teresa Jeter is a 1995 MURP grad and holds a PhD in public policy and administration from Walden University. She has 20 years of experience with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was recently named the Ball State Alumni Association’s volunteer of the year.