According to some city and student leaders, town and gown relations are at an all-time high.
Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler, Williamsburg Director of Human Services Peter Walentisch and College of William and Mary Student Assembly President Valerie Hopkins ’09 took part in a panel Wednesday night, discussing student involvement in service and civic engagement in Williamsburg.
The dialogue was part of a civic lecture series hosted by the Office of Student Services and was designed to familiarize students with opportunities to work and volunteer beyond campus walls. SA Undersecretary for Public Affairs for Williamsburg Dave Johnson ’09 moderated the discussion.
Citing the multitude of organizations and charities with which College students regularly volunteer and a willingness between city officials and College students to work together to solve important issues facing Williamsburg, Zeidler was confident in her assertion of strong town-gown cooperation.
“Five or 10 years ago, there was no dialogue, and problems were all brushed under the surface,” Zeidler said. “That doesn’t do anybody any good. Now I think we have great vehicles to talk to each other, we have issues that are out on the table, and we have a determination to try to find resolution to those issues.”
Walentisch highlighted city programs and services, which he said run from “birth through old age,” as excellent opportunities for College students to get involved in the community. These programs allow students to tutor elementary school children, mentor high school students and assist the elderly.
Hopkins echoed Zeidler’s statements by drawing attention to recent efforts made by the city to accommodate College students through an improved Williamsburg city website and a new pilot program entitled Peak Democracy, designed to provide students and community members with a forum in which to discuss city issues.
“This new Peak Democracy program lets you engage from the comfort of your own dorm room, your house. From anywhere you want, you can log on, there’s an online forum, and you can discuss your opinion on any matter,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins also discussed an online update feature that allows students to request newsletters about the city’s efforts on a number of fronts including the environment, trash collection and neighborhood issues.
Zeidler made special mention of College students who volunteer as emergency medical technicians for the Williamsburg Fire Department, saying that on occasion more than half of the city’s EMTs have been students. She also cited a joint study conducted by the College’s Sharpe Scholars Program and the city of Williamsburg which recorded Williamsburg houses occupied by students to create a database to assist future students who wished to live off campus.
Recently, the SA and the city have been working on an amendment to the oft-debated three-person rule, another sign that the town-gown relationship is stronger than meets the eye.
“I think this is an illusion that [the city and the College] don’t have a positive relationship,” Hopkins said. “I think there are so many instances where it just doesn’t get written about.”