College’s neighborhood initiatives meant to enhance students’, community’s lives
Detroit — The gates of Maryrove College are never closed, and were built 90 years ago “to keep the cows out.”
As such, they were never intended to keep the rest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary-sponsored school’s neighbors away.
That sentiment from Marygrove College president Elizabeth Burns, Ph.D., was shared during her address to alumni, faculty and friends at the President’s Gala on June 23 to highlight the need for Marygrove to be an active neighbor in its northwest Detroit neighborhood.
“Marygrove College was founded by brave, visionary women, who knew education of women was import to Detroit,” Burns said. “Engaged in teaching the liberal arts, Marygrove was all women until 1971, but was never a ‘finishing school.’ We taught the art of making a living with the liberal arts. The city of Detroit needs cultural innovations, with leaders who have bold visions, to provide for the people of Detroit.”
The gala served as an “open house” for the college to the community, showcasing how the school is working to collaborate with its neighbors both during the school year and over the summer.
Through the Marygrove Community Association, the college has long been a good neighbor to the surrounding area, which is bounded by Wyoming, Greenlawn and Puritan avenues and McNichols Road, a section of the Fitzgerald Neighborhood.
The college hosts the Marygrove Community Association garden, where people can grow vegetables and fruits, as well as a clothing closet for women in need. The MCA is also partnering with Talmer Bank and Trust to renovate three houses in the neighborhood and clean up vacant lots.
But Sr. Ann Nett, IHM, who serves on the Marygrove Community Association board, said the college’s involvement in its community go well beyond cleaning vacant lots.
“This area has been hit hard by tax foreclosures, so the college has hosted workshops with the city on what resources they have available,” Sr. Nett told The Michigan Catholic. “Residents of the neighborhood found it very helpful. Talmer Bank helped us with a property on Cherrylawn, and we continue to host meetings at the college.”
Such partnerships have even spilled over into the college’s curriculum, particularly in urban leadership, which has led many Detroit students to choose Marygrove because of its unique location and urban-based education.
The college recently hosted the Defining Detroit panel, discussing ways to create healthy neighborhoods and how a higher learning institution can help.
“One of the biggest issues people in the community are facing is the threat of gentrification,” said Jane Hammang-Buhl, professor emerita at Marygrove. “One of the big ideas (from Defining Detroit) was how creative work contributes to healthy neighborhoods.”
Since Marygrove began the urban leadership initiative, 50 percent of its incoming students have listed such focus as a reason for selecting Marygrove, Hammang-Buhl said. Part of the initiative involves collaborating with organizations and individuals already in the area, using the college’s resources to highlight the creative gems in northwest Detroit.
For example, last year Marygrove students took part in an arts project that involved interviewing seniors living near the college, partnering with an artist from Palmer Park and students from Renaissance High School to create the “Seniors and their Stories” project.
Rose DeSloover, another Marygrove professor emerita, said she and her colleagues developed the program to give students real-life experience in developing entrepreneurial skills while highlighting local artists.
“The thing about art is, it’s not meant to be elite,” DeSloover said. “It has a part to play where everyone can access it. It’s not extra, not excess. All the community comes together to celebrate. So we had our students go out into the community and highlight a local artist.”
This summer, the college selected Charles McGee, an artist whose studio has been located at Six Mile and Livernois Avenue for 50 years. McGee is now partnering with the college for the “Changing the Vibe at 6 Mile and Wyoming” project, where McGee will sculpt a statue that will be the centerpiece of the Charles McGee Community Commons that will be open to the public. The commons is expected to break ground in July and open in September.
All community outreach is intended for the benefit of not only Marygrove’s students, but the surrounding community, a direct result of what the IHM Sisters wanted 90 years ago, said Sr. Barbara Beesley, IHM, assistant campus minister.
“We’re not a separate entity, we’re all one in this process,” Sr. Beesley said. “We invite people to come in and share resources with the community, to showcase what people are doing. This takes the theme of Catholic social justice and puts them into practice, and that’s what we need to be, that’s why we need to be here.”