XU strives to pop the “Xavier bubble” through community engagement
By Tess Dankoski, Marty Dubecky and Katie Sanchez, Staff Writers
With the decision to narrow access to the outdoor basketball courts and plans to connect Xavier to the Wasson Way bike trail in the coming years, the Xavier community has debated whether enough is being done to pop the so-called “Xavier bubble.”
A task force decided that the outdoor basketball courts, located on the north side of campus adjacent to Buenger Hall, are scheduled to open next semester. This fall, the courts have been closed due to COVID-19 concerns and repeated vandalism to the turnstile gates last summer.
“Work will begin immediately to repair damage that was done to the courts this summer and our hope is the courts will be open early in the spring semester,” Dave Johnson, Chief Student Affairs Officer and a member of the task force created for the courts, said.
When the courts reopen in the spring, they will be open to just students, faculty and staff. Johnson noted that while students expressed a desire for the courts to be used as a vehicle for community engagement, this request could not be accommodated.
“Our previous system for facilitating community members with access to the courts for open play was ineffective and resulted in limited utilization,” Johnson said.
“Going forward, we will explore and develop collaborative efforts with community partners to facilitate utilization of the basketball courts and community engagement around outdoor recreation,” he added.
Before the gate was put up in 2014, the courts were open to both Xavier students and local community members, including nearby Norwood and Evanston residents. However, after students complained that the courts were getting too crowded, Xavier administrators built a fence and made court access exclusive to ALL Card swipe access.
Although the university constructed a gate to the courts, students and community members would still share the space.
“Xavier students would let their friends or siblings into the outdoor courts to share the love of the game together,” Keyan Skelton, a senior international business major, said.
Skelton noted he misses the community aspect of the open courts.
“(The courts provided) an opportunity to play gritty college basketball with not only the students but also friends and community members,” he said.
Although the outdoor basketball courts will be closed to the surrounding community, Xavier administrators say the university continues to try to engage in other ways.
One of the bridges between Xavier and the surrounding community is the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning, which performs outreach projects such as after-school tutoring in Evanston. Director of the Eigel Center Sean Rhiney believes that more can be done.
“I can tell you anecdotally, our relationships with the surrounding community weren’t always that great. It’s been a dramatic improvement in our relationships… yet we still have much to learn,” Rhiney said.
Hollie Johnsnon, academic program officer for the School of Education, also wishes the Xavier community did more in the surrounding neighborhoods. While she is proud of the work and experience they have had in the Norwood area, Johnson says, “I feel like we really should be getting outside of our four walls.”
Both Johnson and Rhiney are aware of the Xavier bubble, and they intend to increase community engagement every year.
One way Xavier is currently attempting to engage with surrounding neighborhoods is through its participation in the Wasson Way trail project. Once completed, the Wasson Way trail will be a part of the Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network (CRWN). The CRNW is a planned 34-mile paved urban trail loop that could connect over 356,000 people from dozens of communities in Cincinnati to a larger network of Ohio bike trails.
Sean Comer, Xavier’s government relations director, has worked with government officials and community advocates for Wasson Way in order to integrate the trail into Xavier’s campus. Comer described the Xavier administration as “engaged” with the project and its potential impact on the greater Xavier community.
“It’s not just your campus. It’s not just Xavier University. It’s where else can you get to,” Comer said. “I think that kind of connectivity is important to prioritize.”
Wasson Way currently starts near the intersection of Dana Avenue and Montgomery Road and extends past the Rookwood Commons to Ault Park in Hyde Park.
By the end of 2022, the Wasson Way Project plans to expand the trail through Xavier’s southern edge near Dana up to Milcrest Park, just north of campus. In addition, the plan is that the trail will extend southward behind the Village Apartments all the way to Martin Luther King Dr. near the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Zoo.
The project will also incorporate new crosswalks on and near Xavier’s campus that officials hope would make it easier for residents in surrounding neighborhoods, including students, to access Xavier’s portion of Wasson Way.
At Dr. Hancyz’s Presidential Inauguration last month, she was given a bicycle by representatives from the city of Cincinnati, Norwood, Evanston and North Avondale. One of these representatives was Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman, who presented the bike as a way for Hancyz to “get out” on Wasson Way, encouraging unity between Xavier and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The outdoor basketball courts and Wasson Way demonstrate the university’s initiative to pop the “Xavier bubble” and continually foster conversation about potential avenues for community engagement.