PARC initiative engages students in violence prevention and community-based research

The Center for Peacemaking has been at the forefront of the three year Promoting Assets and Reducing Crime (PARC) initiative since it was launched. At its core, the PARC initiative is a peacemaking project focused on building a stronger Near West Side community where all people’s basic needs are met and violence is not a major concern.

PARC is the first project of the Near West Side Partners, a non-profit organization created by Aurora Health Care, Harley-Davidson, Marquette University, MillerCoors, and Potawatomi Business Development Corporation. These five anchor institutions in the neighborhood came together with a shared recognition of both the neighborhood’s challenges as well as how much potential there is in Milwaukee’s Near West Side.

To realize this potential, PARC has four key focus areas: safety, housing, commercial corridor development, and neighborhood identity and branding. Patrick Kennelly, director of the Center for Peacemaking and principal investigator of PARC, said, “It is so encouraging because PARC has brought together residents and community partners to identify and develop strategies to address various challenges in the neighborhoods.”

The Center for Peacemaking was tapped to lead this initiative because of our strong track record of community based participatory research that addresses violence. The PARC project builds upon the Center for Peacemaking’s violence prevention efforts including Peace Works and partnerships with CRS in Ethiopia and the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Kennelly added, “By engaging Marquette students and faculty in each step — identifying challenges, developing strategies, and implementing solutions — we are demonstrating how the university is using its knowledge and resources to create change in its own backyard.”

In the first year of PARC, 120 students and 9 faculty have gained experience in applied peacemaking or community-based research. Recent graduate Max Bertellotti (Arts & Sciences ’16) is one of those who has made the most of this opportunity.

- — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Max, who graduated in May, started working at the Center for Peacemaking during his sophomore year. When the PARC initiative was announced at the end of his junior year, he immediately indicated that he wanted to get involved.

We hired Max to work as a research assistant on the PARC initiative throughout the summer and for the duration of his senior year. In this role he conducted community-based research with faculty, actively engaged with residents in the Near West Side, and created ways for other Marquette students and student organizations to participate in PARC.

Conducting Research

Working with Dr. Amber Wichowsky and the MU Democracy Lab, Max helped measure and develop strategies to increase civic engagement in the Near West Side. He was responsible for organizing a group of students to administer surveys to collect data on civic engagement. With the data gathered, he worked closely with Dr. Wichowsky to analyze the data and develop recommendations for PARC.

They then shared the research on the role of community voices in public development with audiences beyond Milwaukee. Max presented with faculty and staff at three academic conferences over the past year.

Strengthening Neighborhoods

Max also frequently assisted with trainings for various programs facilitated through PARC. One such program is the Good Neighbor Program which works with landlords to maintain safe and desirable living conditions. Max participated in a walk-through in which landlords and community organizers learned about internal and external property conditions that should be improved and which qualify a landlord for a “Good Neighbor” designation.

Engaging students

The last of Max’s responsibilities was to recruit students and student organizations to participate in PARC programs. Many of these programs were neighborhood cleanups that provided Marquette students the opportunity to explore the Near West Side beyond the campus boundaries and interact with their neighbors. Over 25 students participated in a cleanup as part of their freshman orientation. In another project over 100 students and residents joined Max in building a playground at Merill Park.

Student, faculty, and staff participation in PARC through the Center for Peacemaking exemplifies the contributions each of these groups can make when partnering with community organizations and leaders to implement violence prevention programs and practice applied nonviolent peacemaking.

Marquette students volunteering at a neighborhood cleanup.