Olivia Papp ’23
In addition to her position as Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law, Abigail Williamson also serves as Director for The Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity.
The Center for Hartford Engagement and Research is crucial to the connectivity between Trinity College and its surrounding community, Hartford. This program is relatively new, as it was founded in 2018. The purpose of this program is to strengthen the bond between the Hartford community and the College.
The Tripod spoke with Professor Williamson to learn more.
“The mission is to connect Hartford’s diverse communities with students, staff, and faculty at Trinity through educational partnerships,” she explained.
Williamson’s role as director is to bring coherence to Trinity’s engagement with Hartford by coordinating relationships between Center program leaders, community partners, and students/staff/faculty, and promoting shared information and resources. Williamson’s role also entails managing the Center’s program directors.
Trinity’s diverse location, centered in the heart of an urban city, is a large draw for students looking for an institution to spend their next four years. The CHER program is important to students, as it allows students to participate in the happenings outside the parameters of Trinity’s campus.
“Hartford has a rich history in terms of its cultural diversity and wealth of art and theatre opportunities,” identified Williamson. “Compared to other small liberal arts colleges, Trinity students have such an extraordinary opportunity to engage in various ways, whether it’s with the state capitol, non-profit partners, social entrepreneurs, or cultural and arts organizations,” said Williamson.
Statistics show that students are eager to get involved with their urban community. According to a 2019 report by former director Jack Dougherty and his colleagues in the department, during a traditional 4-year period at Trinity, 62% of the class of 2018 enrolled in at least one community learning course, involving an educational partnership with Hartford. A quarter of students completed two or more community learning classes. In 2017-2018, about a quarter of traditional undergraduates participated in co-curricular programs through the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement or Trinfo.Café.
“We’re pleased that so many students experience the benefits of Hartford’s vibrant urban environment by participating in partnerships, and we hope these connections enrich their learning,” said Williamson.
Over the years, there has been an assortment of projects across campus that have focused on strengthening the bond between Trinity and its urban setting. However, CHER is unique in that it serves as an umbrella to several different programs including the Trinfo.Café, the Public Humanities Collaborative, the HMTCA Partnership, the Office of Community Service & Civic Engagement, the Liberal Arts Action Lab, and Community Learning.
Williamson reflected on this increasing collaboration, and said, “For this year, it’s exciting to mention that Dean Cardenas is very interested in making sure that we are broadening this cooperation further. Four centers are cooperating on a new Urban Engaged Learning Initiative. These centers include CHER, the Center for Urban and Global Studies, the Caribbean Studies Center, and a new arts initiative. This is a start to broader cooperation amongst lots of groups that are connecting Hartford and Trinity.”
Naturally, this is an initiative that is contingent upon human interaction. As the world has come to a screeching halt in the face of COVID-19, it has been difficult for students to participate in all of CHER’s typical activities, something the Center is actively working on in 2020.
“We are incredibly cognizant of the fact that there are no easy decisions in the midst of this pandemic. We know the first priority of the administration is to protect everyone’s health,” explained Williamson. “For a center whose mission is off-campus engagement, it does create challenges for our work, just like it does for other programs. While we want to collaborate with our Hartford partners, we want to ensure we’re operating in such a way that keeps the broader Hartford community safe.”
During the pandemic, CHER has reopened Trinfo.Café to provide access to digital resources and training to neighborhood residents.
Trinfo’s student leaders are also developing new curriculums to address pandemic challenges (such as: Parents Working from Home, Tips, and Resources for Children’s Remote Learning).
Catering to coronavirus protocol at this time, the curricular aspects of the program have been changed to remote learning. Sixteeen community learning classes are continuing with remote partnerships with Hartford organizations and residents.
“It’s unfortunate we can’t have students off campus right now learning from Hartford’s diverse communities and fulfilling partner needs,” commented Williamson. “One thing we have done in the absence of that is the online community volunteering database. Gradually we are populating that database so that there are more remote volunteering options. We hope students will sign up to volunteer, in order to connect with our community partners, especially in this time of greater isolation,” Williamson said.
Students interested in participating in CHER initiatives in the coming months are encouraged to reach out to a member of the CHER Team at CHER.TrinColl.edu. Students can also sign-up for remote volunteering by visiting the CHER team website and clicking on the volunteer section.
The Liberal Arts Action Lab is currently recruiting students for the Spring 2021 semester.