On the evening of Mar. 17, Impact Speaker Series presented Equitable and Inclusive Community Partnerships, a discussion panel on Tech’s responsibility to the Atlanta community.
The panel was moderated by Chris Burke, Executive Director of Community Relations, and featured panelists Rachel Sprecher of Atlanta Public Schools (APS), James “Jay” Bailey of the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) and Leah LaRue of the City of Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU).
The event was a part of Impact’s 2020- 2021 weekly Speaker Series. Promotional materials for the series said events feature “conversations on race, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
The panel discussed inequity across Atlanta, Tech’s current involvement in the community and the need for Tech to expand its community work in the future.
The first discussion described inequity in Atlanta as primarily falling along lines of race and socioeconomic inequality. Bailey said some of the greatest challenges the community faces could be solved by providing equitable access to economic opportunities. Community resources are vital to driving wealth, business and entrepreneurship.
The panel also discussed the impact of Tech’s community outreach efforts.
“A city is only as strong as its public school system,”
Sprecher said. Sprecher said Tech has a role in taking care of and preparing potential students, praising the APS Scholars initiative, in which Tech provides automatic acceptance and covers four-year in-state tuition and fees for all APS valedictorians and salutatorians.
The program has allowed students to raise their expectations of themselves and has encouraged academic achievement across APS.
“There are so many different disciplines that have now realized that if we can expose the children of Atlanta to what’s right here in our backyard, we could really transform our city and build a workforce pipeline. It’s not lost on us what an asset Georgia Tech — its students, its staff, its faculty — is in our own backyard, but it’s cool that they’ve realized that our students are an asset, too,” Sprecher said.
Bailey echoed the importance of providing opportunities and resources to the students of Atlanta. “The only difference between Bankhead and Buckhead is access to opportunity and exposure,” Bailey said about the inequitable opportunities offered to students from differing socioeconomic backgrounds. LaRue, then, commended Tech’s efforts to reach out to the greater Atlanta community through projects such as a research project in which Tech students recorded the oral history of Atlanta neighborhoods. This type of work is invaluable as these neighborhoods are being rapidly gentrified and preserving its history allows future generations to learn about the roots of their communities.
The panel went on to describe how Tech could expand on and improve its community outreach efforts.
“Communities are going to need more than symbols of hope, they’re going to need institutions that manufacture it. For far too long, [Tech has] had a gate around you on North Avenue, and it’s time to take that gate down. Let’s open it up, and make it work,” Bailey said.
The panel recognized the community’s need for an entry point to get involved with Tech. There isn’t a clear entry point for community members to interact or get involved with Tech, making it more intimidating for community members who are conducting outreach.
Sprecher added that community outreach is most effective when you find the right person to interact with. You can boost your work by zeroing in on your cause, which can lead to you finding the right person to help you efforts. She described Tech as the perfect environment to connect with people who can support this crucial community work.
LaRue touted community groups as a gateway for Tech to expand their involvement with the Atlanta community. Community groups such as neighborhood associations give the pulse of what is going on in a community and offer networking opportunities for participants to connect over shared causes. Neighborhood and NPU meetings act as a plug into a neighborhood and provide a level of context you can’t get anywhere else.
LaRue also proposed Tech use its platform to collaborate with communities on planning and development.
“Cities often plan for neighborhoods, not with neighborhoods,” LaRue said.
Community members know best what their neighborhoods need. Including community members on planning and development projects is critical to maintaining the integrity of that community.
The panelists made clear — Tech has a responsibility to use its resources and platform to benefit the City of Atlanta, and the greatest way to serve this community is through equity.
A recording of the event is available online. For more information on the Impact Speaker Series, visit scheller.gatech.edu.