As the university expands, students are making more efforts to pop the “JMU bubble.”
On Saturday afternoon, Nicole Evans, a fifth year public policy and administration major, Brett Tavel, Robert Borge and Pratik Banjade organized JMU for Harrisonburg, a campus tour aimed at integrating JMU with the Harrisonburg community.
They created the event as part of their community development class in order to bring Harrisonburg and JMU closer.
The event attracted seven Harrisonburg residents and showed them what facilities JMU offers for public use. The residents were also given free coupons and tickets to sporting events and performances at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.
“Since JMU is expanding within the next five or 10 years, we’re kind of taking over Harrisonburg in some sense,” Evans said. “We really just want to bridge the gap between JMU and Harrisonburg residents so we’re trying to show them what kind of things they’re able to use.”
Evans said she hopes events like this would better the relationship between JMU and Harrisonburg residents by educating both groups about each other.
“We’re well aware that after Springfest [JMU’s reputation] is not great,” Evans said. “We know that JMU has made a lot of effort to overcome — we just want to show the community that we’re trying to make the effort.”
Evans added that reaching out to the community first is important, since JMU students might not know enough about their neighbors to make a positive effect.
“I don’t think JMU students know enough about Harrisonburg,” Evans said. “We’re really hoping we get students more in Harrisonburg — that they go somewhere other than Walmart, and contribute to the local economy.”
Bonnie Downey, a Massanutten resident and ‘81 alumna, returned to JMU for Saturday’s tour to see how its changed over the years.
Downey said that while she understands why the community might view JMU negatively, she thinks JMU is headed in the right direction by increasing their engagement in the community.
“Unfortunately, with the events that have happened in the past with students and police, it’s going to be difficult for the community not to have that perception,” Downey said. “When JMU students become part of mentorship-type programs or get an internship in the area, that’s going to help the image of the school.”
Downey’s husband, Mike, also graduated from JMU, said much of the community sees JMU as a business.
“Well there has always been the townie-campus dialogue or lack of one,” Mike said. “That has always been a topic of conversation, if there’s a separation there, but the community has to realize that what’s available with resources, whether that’s variety of shopping and all that, it’s based on the students that JMU brings to town.”
Roy Norville, also of Massanutten, added that although he thinks JMU should increase its community involvement by publicizing events, the community and school will never fully integrate.
“I think there’s a lot that the university could do to provide outreach like open things up, take things to different place,” Norville said.
Downey said she appreciated learning about the opportunities that JMU offers to the public.
“Since other than a football game occasionally, we don’t really come to campus,” Downey said. “The tour really updates our knowledge in terms of what’s available.”
Evans said she and her fellow collaborators hope their project will become an annual event through other organizations like Student Greater Madison.
“We’re not just trying to take over their city,” Evans said. “We really hope that they see that we support Harrisonburg.”
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