Community and students address local politics, disconnection

Valpo students and community members discuss local political issues with several individuals running for a position on City Council at an event hosted by the Office of Multicultural Programs in the Christopher Center Library Community Room.

The Office of Multicultural Programs hosted “Beyond Democrat and Republican: A Conversation on Navigating Our Way Through Pertinent Issues in Local Politics” on Wednesday.

According to Byron Martin, the director of the OMP, the purpose of this event was to create a dialogue between Valparaiso University students and community members about local political issues.

“How do we get to a level where we can all work together using our different ideas, not necessarily to harm one another, but to fuel change and to get us to where we want to be?” Martin said.

This open conversation was led by a panel of community members who are running for office in the Valparaiso city council, and included Debora Porter, running for an at large city council position, Diana Reed and Robert Ordway, running for District One, Robert Cotton, running for District Two, John Novak, running for District Three and Norman Hudson, running for District Five.

The discussion began with the differences between Democrats and Republicans, as well as the reasons for individuals having certain political affiliations.

“Determining factors of political affiliation might be background, family (and) associations that you might have had throughout your life,” Novak said.

There is very little variation in the political views of members of the local government in most cities. Generally, either the Democratic or Republican viewpoint takes over at the local level, making it difficult for opposing voices to be heard.

The discussion also focused on issues that are faced locally and ideas to fix these issues.

Several students voiced their concerns about how isolated the university is from the community, and community members echoed these concerns.

“One of the things that struck me at our table, we had a very open and honest conversation about the racial divide in Valparaiso, and the fact that university students do stay here in part, I believe, is because at some point the structures of our city have discouraged them from feeling comfortable coming to the city,” Porter said.

Porter suggested that a large reason that this has not been addressed is that there are not people who are willing to talk about this issue.

“We have the capacity to work through the problems and to come to solutions and to solve the problems, but in order to do that we need to initiate the painful dialogue,” Porter said.

This lack of common ground and communication was expressed as a problem the whole community faces.

The main problem with coordinating events between the university and the community is the lack of communication between the two. According to Porter, there used to be a committee composed of students and community members to communicate about events and get everyone involved, but this committee no longer exists.

Despite communication problems, there are several opportunities for the university and the community to work together.

Some organizations, such as Hilltop Neighborhood House, work well with the university.

“If it weren’t for Valparaiso University, [Hilltop Neighborhood House] would not exist. Ordway said. “There’s about 102 work-study students, some paid, some not, it is amazing.”

Another topic of discussion was infrastructure problems in the city.

“I was thrilled to hear the comments that were made at my table because they all fell right in line with what some of the things I’m concerned with as platform issues,” Cotton said. “I think that infrastructure is something that isn’t being addressed in a manner that I think reflects the 21st century dialogue.”

The question of infrastructure was expanded on when the discussion moved to audience questions. Several panelists spoke on this issue, emphasizing a need to prioritize which improvements must be made and the lack of funding for these improvements.

“With $13 million needed in road repairs, we’re not going to keep up with what’s happening to the roads year after year after every bad winter if we’re only fixing $2 million of it when there’s going to be another $2 million added on the next year,” Novak said.

Later in the event, Porter emphasized a need for hiring practices to be improved to focus on diversity and making sure the best qualified person is selected for the job.

“I think there should be an oversight committee to ensure that as we’re looking at the numbers of employment opportunities that are there and making sure that one, they are filled by qualified individuals, but by making sure that we’re not overlooking individuals just because of their race, ethnicity or any other background that might have prejudices against,” Reed said.

Closing statements recapping the issues discussed by the panelists, and the audience was left with a final reminder from Martin.

“Politics is an interesting game,” Martin said. “When people are running, you should be their greatest advocates, but when they get into office, you should become their greatest critics. That’s how we make sure that the game runs well.”

Contact Jessica Moon at torchnews@valpo.edu.

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