Friday, the Miami University Center for Community Engagement (MUCCE) in Over-the-Rhine (OTR), a historically underprivileged neighborhood in Cincinnati, will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
According to Thomas Dutton, Miami professor of architecture and interior design and MUCCE director, his students have been involved in OTR dating back to 1996, even before MUCCE’s founding.
“It originally started with students wanting to be more involved,” Dutton, who got his students involved in the non-profit Over-the-Rhine design-build project said. “We were there; we were being a value to the non-profit for which we were working.”
Eventually, Dutton orchestrated his students’ designing and building of the MUCCE. The building was approved by Miami in February 2002 and has remained in OTR for the past 10 years as an epicenter for community engagement.
“The Center has become a place where students, faculty and community people can learn from each other,” Dutton said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the blessing of the community.”
Not long after the MUCCE’s conception, Dutton implemented a residency program for Miami students in OTR.
Since 2006, the residency program has allowed 12 to 15 students at a time to stay in OTR during the fall to take classes during the evening and to participate in design-build projects, student teaching, daycare services, after-school programs or other activities, depending on each respective student’s interests during the day, according to Dutton.
“We attempt to bring students who are generally wealthier or have perhaps had more resources at their disposal to an environment outside of their comfort zone,” Dutton said. “The intention is that students want to work in a way to serve the under-served.”
Allison Bavaro, who graduated from the architecture program in December 2011, was inspired to participate in the residency program after a teacher-housing design-build project in Abrafo-Odumase, a small village in Ghana, during the summer of 2010.
“I was excited to have another chance to partake in the rehabbing of such a historical district,” Bavaro said.
After acting as a tutor and combining efforts with other residency program participants to renovate the OTR Homeless Coalition throughout the fall semester, Bavaro felt changed.
“I lived in OTR for four-and-a-half months and I lived in Oxford for four years,” Bavaro said. “I experienced more friendliness in my short time in OTR than I did my entire four years in Oxford.”
However, architecture majors are not the only eligible participants. According to Dutton, education, business, psychology, philosophy and even English majors have taken advantage of the residency program.
Benjamin Wilkey, a senior teacher education major, became involved with MUCCE in 2010. Teacher education majors under the residency program are able to student teach in the Rothenberg School in OTR.
“As education majors, we provide another view into the community that the other students may not see,” Wilkey said. “Having different groups — architecture majors, education majors and others — doing different ‘programs’ within the experiences allows us to avoid focusing on one aspect.”
The first 10 years of MUCCE have brought about numerous successes, including the creation of an OTR People’s Movement history timeline poster in the fall semester of 2011. The completed two-foot-by-18-foot timeline was displayed in front of around 500 people last December during an annual Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless banquet.
According to Dutton, the People’s Movement is an attempt by residents of OTR to promote social justice and human rights in the area. The movement builds its foundation on goals of affordable education and housing.
Students and faculty associated with the MUCCE in OTR collaborated with the OTR People’s Movement, collecting oral histories on the movement to create a timeline of its history.
“By looking at the timeline, people realize that there is a people’s movement trying to move forward in OTR,” Dutton said.
The People’s Movement timeline was a product of the MUCCE’s overarching engagement model. According to Dutton, this model, called Agitation-Propagation (Agit-Prop), prompts Miami students to agitate and propagate points of view concerning the history of OTR and overall political consciousness.
With the introduction of spring and summer residency opportunities, immersion in the agitation-propagation agenda with MUCCE in OTR is becoming increasingly possible for Miami students and faculty.
“I would recommend this program to others,” Wilkey said. “For education majors, it gives a unique setting in which you can grow as a teacher.”
As its 10th anniversary approaches, the MUCCE in OTR has maintained its mission of community engagement and Agitation-Propagation.
“Students build relationships and try to build trust with people from the community so that an exchange can occur,” Dutton said. “We are not trying to be a charity model; it’s an engagement model.”
An open house will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Buddy’s Place, 1300 Vine St. in OTR, according to Dutton. Beginning at 7 p.m., people will be providing testimonies about their experiences with MUCCE and the role and value of MUCCE in OTR.