Action Lab, CHER News

Report: Trinity’s Relationship with the Hartford Neighborhood: Results from a Community Resident Survey

CHER will briefly present and listen to community feedback on our latest report at these public events: 

– Tuesday October 15th, 2019 at 5:30pm, Frog Hollow NRZ, 70 Vernon St
– Friday October 25, 2019 at 12:00 pm in McCook 201 conference room, Trinity College
– Tuesday Nov 12th at 6pm, Southwest/Behind the Rocks NRZ, Free Center, 460 New Britain Ave
– Thursday Nov 14th at 6pm, Maple Ave NRZ, St. Augustine Church, 10 Campfield Ave

Download a PDF of the full report.


Report for the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) Trinity College

About contributors to this report: Megan Brown is the lead author of this report, and primarily responsible for the content of this analysis. Mabel Silva provided analysis assistance and conducted interviews with residents. Luis Rivera provided translation services and interview training. Erica Crowley provided interview training and managed the day-to-day canvas operations. Karen Navarette, Tyesha Rodriguez, Yadira Rivera, Janet Rice, Shakira Acevedo, Kristian Cruz, Jonathan Cruz, Luci Lebron, and Eli Hernandez conducted interviews with residents. Jack Dougherty contributed research planning and coordination, and edited the final draft with Erica Crowley.

Funding for this report was generously provided by the Trinity College Office of the President and Community Relations, the Dean of Faculty, the Faculty Research Committee, the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research, the Office of Community Learning, Trinfo Cafe, and the Liberal Arts Action Lab. The findings are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the funders.

Executive Summary

In the summer of 2019, Trinity College undertook a door-to-door canvas survey of residents in the 15 square blocks around the campus. The purpose of this survey was to listen to and learn from the neighbors who live near the Trinity campus. Teams of student and community interviewers spoke with 114 neighborhood residents about their perceptions of their neighborhood, their knowledge and perception of Trinity College and its community-facing programming, and their direct experiences with the campus.

Key findings from the survey:

1) Familiarity with Trinity’s community-facing programs is relatively high throughout the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the campus.A majority of residents surveyed were aware of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, Trinfo Cafe, and the Koeppel Center. A smaller portion had made use of the services or visited the buildings.

2) Neighborhood residents associated Trinity College with quality, but also privilege.Many residents perceived Trinity to be a high-quality school, with 28% of respondents mentioning the college’s perceived quality. However, nearly 20% also associated the college with wealth and privilege, indicating that the college was, as several put it, “for rich kids,” and suggesting that it was not for the residents.

3) Residents perceived the campus as comfortable, but not welcoming. On one hand, a substantial majority (78%) of residents interviewed reported feeling somewhat or very comfortable on Trinity’s campus. On the other hand, less than half of the people we surveyed had actually visited campus, despite living within a few blocks. When asked open-ended questions about their engagement with the college, many community residents described a campus environment that was not welcoming to them.

4) Many residents reported overall positive feelings about their neighborhood, while some discussed problems such as crime and quality of life concerns. Residents were more likely to describe the neighborhood as “quiet” than any other descriptor. However, many residents in our sample were still concerned with drugs, crime, and quality of life concerns (like wild traffic).

5) Neighborhood residents report limited access to technology, high-quality internet, and free tax preparation services. We asked residents about their access to technology and tax preparation services because Trinity College supports programs specifically aimed at these issues. Although access to technology has increased since 2001, 40% of residents in our sample reported having only a smartphone in their home, and another 18% use only cellular service for internet connection. In addition, 38% of residents we talked to paid a professional for tax preparation services, rather than using free services.

Perceptions of Trinity College and Knowledge of Programs

We asked interviewees a series of questions about their familiarity with various Trinity programs to gauge both their knowledge of the programs, previous experience with the programs, and overall perceptions of Trinity College. To encourage detailed qualitative recollections and opinions about places and programs, we prompted these conversations using pictures of the place or program in question. We showed interviewees pictures of the six buildings below, without captions. While showing the picture, we asked interviewees first if they were familiar with the place or program. Then, to gauge the level of their familiarity, we asked what they knew about the program. Finally, we asked if they had been inside the space or attended the event.

Note: Interviewees were shown full-size images, without captions, to gauge their familiarity. Top row: Trinfo Cafe, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA), Trinity Library. Bottom row: Cinestudio, Koeppel Community Center (ice rink), the Long Walk.

We also showed three images of Trinity events that are designed with the community in mind.

Note: Interviewees were shown full-size images, without captions, to gauge their familiarity.Left to right: Trinity International Hip Hop Festival, Samba Fest, Halloween on Vernon Street.

Perceptions of the campus as comfortable, but not welcoming

One person who reported feeling very comfortable on campus made a distinction between feeling comfortable and feeling welcome: after saying she felt “very comfortable” on campus, she said, “but we don’t feel welcome because the students don’t greet the community.” Yet another person, although they felt very comfortable on campus, said, “I feel like I’m infiltrating.” These moments of disconnection – whether because of the campus gates, the sense that students aren’t engaging with community members, or the chance of being targeted by public safety officers, increase the perception that Trinity is for some people and not others.

Perceptions of the campus as a quality school, but privileged

Residents commonly describe Trinity as a “good” college. One person, for example, said that “Es el mejor colegio que hay aquí [It’s the best college here].” Other people said that it was “one of the best around,” and “I’ve heard of it as a really good college, in the same conversation as Yale and Harvard.” But a significant portion expressed a sense that the college was removed from the community and not accessible to residents. Of our sample, 22 people (19%) associated Trinity with wealth, whiteness, or the impression that the institution was not accessible.  One person said “it’s where rich White kids go.” Another person said “it’s private – it has nothing for us.” These opinions highlighted the perceived wealth of the student body and the fact that the school itself was expensive, drawing a barrier between the college and the community.

Recommendations

By conducting this door-to-door survey, Trinity’s goal is to be a better neighbor, to match our available resources with community needs when feasible, and to find ways to expand educational partnerships. Based on these responses, and remembering that the biggest hesitation going into this project was whether it would lead to real changes, we have outlined some recommendations for the Trinity College community (administrators, faculty, staff, students) and our Hartford community partners.

1) Trinity should conduct proactive communications with neighborhood residents, in both print and social media, in both English and Spanish.Many people we spoke with were excited to hear about the programs we discussed, and were disappointed that they had not heard more about them. Trinity College should invest in communicating directly with our neighbors to encourage engagement with community-facing programs and on-campus activities. The importance of Spanish-language material to reach the neighborhoods surrounding the college is apparent based on our sample: 45 of 114 interviews(about 40%) were conducted in Spanish. Trinity’s existing English-only and print-only communications materials are not effectively reaching residents, as only 20% had ever seen a copy of the College’s bi-monthly English-language Broad Street Happenings newsletter. It is also clear that social media and internet-based sources of communication are important, but not sufficient measures: only 16% of people mentioned using social media regularly to get information about the neighborhood. By expanding methods of  communicating Trinity’s activitiessuch as posting flyers in local businesses, mailings, and news reports, as some residents suggested — we can maximize the chance of activating informal communication channels that are prevalent through the neighborhood.

2) Continue investing in services like Trinfo Cafe & the VITA tax clinic. Our survey suggested that familiar challenges surrounding access to technology and high-quality internet connectivity remain an issue in the neighborhood. That said, the contour of need has changed since 2001, as more people have access to internet connectivity, just not high quality services and full-service technology. Additionally, we found evidence that volunteer tax preparation services are also needed and currently underutilized. Trinity should continue investing in these programs, expand as possible, and continue to match the services with the neighborhood needs.

3) Trinity should improve the condition of its property adjacent to the neighborhoods. While several neighborhood challenges belie simple solutions, such as the drug trade and violent crime, many of the frequently-cited challenges require mostly elbow grease to fix. Trinity College should increase its investment in visible efforts to improve the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods by improving and maintaining its property along the edges of campus. Other contributions could include investment in physical neighborhood amenities such as bus stops.

4) Expand community-engagement partnerships with institutions that neighborhood residents trust. Trinity has several long-standing relationships with community partners, but we are also searching to expand partnerships with organizations that matter most to the community. Our discussions with community residents suggest that there are many neighborhood faith-based organizations that are visible and trusted within the community,  such as St. Augustine Church. Also, health centers and clinics, such as Hartford Hospital and the Charter Oak clinic, are well-known in the neighborhood. Expanding our community-focused partnerships with these organizations would allow for a more visible presence in the neighborhoods directly surrounding our college.

5) Work towards creating an open and welcoming campus environment.It is encouraging that many people in our survey reported feeling comfortable on campus. However, it is clear that work remains to be done. One way to make the campus more welcoming to the larger community is to  proactively invite neighborhood residents to participate in campus events. Campus events designed with Hartford residents in mind, such as Halloween on Vernon, the Samba Fest, and the International Hip Hop Festival, for example, were very positively received by the neighborhood residents who knew about them. We should use and publicize these existing events to create a more welcoming campus environment. Moreover, existing campus space could be improved by including welcoming signage and other indications that areas on campus are available for community residents.

What if Trinity Made Welcome Signs?

Broad Street/Vernon Street Entrance

Rather Library Entrance

Click here to download a PDF of the full report.