ITGA 2020: A conference during crisis, a timely success

This year’s International Town & Gown Association (ITGA) conference took place virtually, yet tackled the big issues face-on

If someone had predicted a few months ago that dozens of ITGA member communities and campuses would be shuttered by a global pandemic, followed by a high-profile race-related death that created more stress and uncertainty, few would have believed it. Below the storms and small in comparison, but essential for ITGA, was the fate of our long-planned June conference, set for Boulder, Colorado. At that point, no one could have envisioned a cutting-edge virtual conference that showcased the best of ITGA at so many levels, from Covid-19 to race relations 2020 and key topics in between. This was ‘ITGA Resiliency Illustrated,’ and I’ll be forever grateful.” International Town & Gown Association (ITGA) Executive Director Beth Bagwell

 

International Town & Gown Association (ITGA)‘s landmark conference featured a menu of responsive programmes touching on current events and steady challenges, including student behavioural issues and neighbourhood relations. Representatives from the UK Town-Gown Association – whose members range from a Canterbury church to the South Wales police and other stakeholders – were also in attendance.

A myriad of excellent sessions touched on economic recovery, off-campus life, and crisis communications. The latter sector included a student-led session on the many issues Covid-19 brought to a rural community of 5,500 people, on the east coast of Canada.

Conference lead presentations were just as stellar, including:

  • The renowned University of Washington professor Dr. Jason Kilmer who has served as lead investigator on several prominent studies on college-age alcohol and drug use. His presentation, ‘But we’re still dealing with alcohol! The Importance of Town-Gown Partnerships in Best Practices in Preventing High-Risk Alcohol Use and Responding to Cannabis in a Changing Legal Climate’, was powerful, entertaining and very well-received.
  • A report-out on ITGA-convened focus groups on how Covid-19 is affecting town-gown environments and relations. Research participants, all ITGA members, represented a diverse array of higher education institutions and communities.  This presentation shared key themes including top concerns for fall openings, and creative ideas for town-gown relations in the wake of the current crisis.
  • A panel presentation on the need for “courageous conversation” on racial tensions, “in order to bring understanding, peace and healing to our current reality of despair, division and racial tensions that have led to widespread global protests.”

Students played an important role throughout the conference, too, including a session titled ‘Poppy’s Wild Week’, led by Manchester Student Homes’ staff leaders Cooper Healey (also an ITGA Board member), and Poppy Humphrey. Manchester Student Homes is a service to provide off-campus and housing support to students, jointly funded by Manchester Metropolitan University and The University of Manchester.

The takeaway from this session? “We have daily interactions with students, but how much do we really understand about the student experience off-campus? It is imperative that town-gown partnership can continue to promote community cohesion within the diverse communities in which our students reside.”

“We are so grateful to our colleagues in the UK and Canada,” said ITGA executive director Beth Bagwell, who is based in South Carolina, USA. “They put the ‘I’ in ITGA, and our goal is for more nations to join our growing and increasingly vital organisation in the coming year.”

Gary Stewart is an associate vice president for community relations at Cornell University in Ithaca NY, a longstanding ITGA member.

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