An engaged campus and a stronger community was the goal of Plattsburgh State’s Center of Community Engagement and coordinator and lecturer Julia Devine, but the university’s budget cuts disbanded the CCE, and Devine received a nonrenewal letter in 2017.
Established in September 2016, the CCE worked to bring the PSUC campus and the greater community of Plattsburgh together. They are responsible for organizing CommUNITY Night @ the Pond, elevating the university’s reputation with The Washington Center Higher Education Civic Engagement Award, which honored Shine On! students in their trip to Washington DC, taking over the administration of the Community Service Scholarship Program for undergraduate students, instituting Community Engagement Awards for students, faculty and community partners and winning PSUC a $13,000 National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Grant. Devine and the CCE were only a year and a half into their projects.
Devine strives to bring the community to the students in more artistic ways.
“I tend to focus on creative [events] because I actually think there’s a void of that on campus,” Devine said. “When you bring people together in a creative way, you’re able to approach more difficult topics and open the door to a deeper relationship.”
Junior writing arts and literature major Arwa Abuwala began an internship with Devine and the CCE this semester. Abuwala described her experiences with community members as wonderful and has gained a creative freedom to make many promotional materials for the CCE. As Devine’s student, Abuwala adored Devine as an educator and a person.
“She makes the best of everything,” Abuwala said. “She was doing great things, and I know she would have continued to do so if she had the chance.”
Using the NEA Big Read grant money, Devine and the CCE will be hosting a reading festival throughout the month of April. Their chosen book, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, will be read and discussed among community members. Devine described the book as a “Native American To Kill a Mockingbird.” Their main goal is to foster a common interest in one book to bring one community together through literature.
Abuwala commends Devine’s positive attitude through the nonrenewal situation.
“She continues to make strides for the Center, and the Big Read Festival is a sterling example of that,” Devine said. “She’ll see it through, and she’ll do a fantastic job.”
Last semester, an online petition on Change.org was created by PSUC student Smit Pujara, hoping to collect enough signatures to save Devine’s job. He described Devine’s position as, “a vital role on our campus,” and how it would be, “a grave mistake to let her go without a fight.” The petition currently has 1,445 online signatures.
“I was really humbled. I didn’t expect that,” Devine said when asked about the petition. “It just showed me the importance of never doubting a relationship you build with someone.”
Although Devine isn’t angry about the decision, she knows she isn’t the first faculty member to lose their job over difficult budget times.
“I still have to be a model and a leader to the students, colleagues and people that I’ve enjoyed working with,” Devine said. “I have to rise above it.”
In response to the recent protests on campus, Abuwala thinks it has created a negative impression of the community in the eyes of the students, who view the CCE as an essential medium.
“I work with [community members] every day, and they are the most generous and humble people,” Abuwala said. “The center was a resource, and it’s a tragedy that it’s being discontinued.”
Past media coverage from PSUC’s alumni magazine and North Country Public Radio has outlined not only Devine’s situation, but also all the work she’s done for the campus community, despite her nonrenewal. “Being angry won’t get me my job back,” Devine said.
“The college might be cutting my position, but they certainly aren’t shy to highlight what I’ve done.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org