Day Three In Review

What CUMU does came to life during the annual conference in Denver, CO. But if you looked closer at the presentations throughout the conference, one question underlaid each one: How do we better our communities through our metropolitan-serving institutions?

While each community engagement initiative presented had a different face, the heart and soul of the metropolitan-serving mission breathed inside each objective and purpose. From recruiting students to installing solar panels in local communities, to keeping an arts and cultural center alive in a rust belt town, to changing the narrative of “DREAMers,” the desire to use universities and colleges to better the places they call home was nothing, if not apparent.

Each local organization and team served as pieces in the patchwork of missions across the country to tackle ever-growing national issues such as racial disparities, health inequities, and the missing pieces and/or lack of access to education.


View photos from day three of the CUMU Annual Conference


At the end of “The Urban Advantage,” Dr. Jason Purnell of Washington University in St. Louis delivered a powerful speech on the disparities facing the city of St. Louis and the county surrounding the Missouri metropolis. In St. Louis, food deserts, lack of access to healthcare, and poor graduation rates plague overwhelmingly African-American neighborhoods. Dr. Purnell began his presentation with a map of St. Louis and its surrounding county that displayed the average life expectancies. In one part of the map, a circle hovered over northern St. Louis City with the number “67.” A similar circle neighboring “67” brandished the number “85.” An eighteen-year life expectancy gap was present within a 10 mile radius.

Dr. Purnell’s findings echoed similar issues faced by cities all across the United States. His presentation also highlighted the work of his organization, For The Sake Of All. The idea behind this organization: If we help our most dire community, then every community around it will strengthen.

CUMU members’ geographic location provides an advantage—an urban advantage. Institutions in these metropolitan areas have the ability to easily share resources with their surrounding communities, whether it’s bringing in students to clean up streets and run clinics, or investing in local organizations and partnerships to bring neighborhoods back to life. In doing this, the community then gives back with a thriving and culturally vibrant place for students to learn, faculty to research, and for the university  to call a home.

There was one word that was repeated almost as frequently as community: education. It all starts with education. In order to break down racial disparities and health inequities, bring business to life, and build a cradle for culture, the community must be educated. This is a university’s main role: to create an educated body of people that bring knowledge into the communities they reside or work in to nurture ideas for change.

We hate to say to goodbye, so it’s an “until we see you again,” in Chicago for #CUMU2018.