P&S Journal: Winter 1995, Vol.15, No.1
Columbia-Presbyterian and Its Community: A Changing Relationship
Efforts to familiarize Health Sciences students with the neighborhood in which they live and study and to increase their participation in the community now begin with their arrival. For years, the entrance to Bard Hall from Haven Avenue was boarded up and the courtyard beyond it gone to seed. Through efforts originating in the Office of Student Housing but involving the collaboration of key administrators, the wrought-iron gates were repaired and opened wide, and the courtyard planted with flowers and cherry trees. To those involved in this project, as well as those who recall the time when the gates were closed, the opening of the gates represents not only a warm welcome to students, but also a new openness to the neighborhood.
In the fall of 1994, the Office of Health Sciences Housing sponsored its first Welcome Wagon, named after small-town and suburban programs that welcome new residents, to introduce incoming students to the neighborhood. During four days at the beginning of the school year, representatives of local stores, banks, restaurants, and museums greeted new students in Bard Hall with food, T-shirts, and other tokens of their enterprises and answered students' questions.
"At first," says Tim Wagner, assistant director of Health Sciences housing, "our purpose was to achieve efficiency, to answer all of the students' questions through a sort of 'one-stop shopping' approach." As the effort grew, however, it became clear that the Welcome Wagon is an excellent means of making students feel comfortable and secure in the neighborhood. Indeed, a follow-up survey showed that the response by students was overwhelmingly positive.
Other efforts encourage students to participate in outreach efforts. Ivy Fairchild, director of public affairs, takes new students on a walking tour of Washington Heights. She also arranges an informal course in conversational Spanish for students. This year, 35 students will take the course taught by the wife of a first-year medical student.
A growing number of students take elective courses that involve them in work in the community. For example, one course takes seven students to the Incarnation Center for Children, which provides health care for children who have AIDS. Other courses engage students in work at the Young Men's and Young Adult Clinics run by the Center for Population and Family Health, or at shelters for homeless people, health clinics for students at local schools, and other community-based programs.