February 07, 2018

The U of U celebrates 15 years of collaboration with Salt Lake City’s west side

Since 2003, University Neighborhood Partners, a special U of U department creating pathways to higher education for residents in 84104 and 84116 zip codes, has operated out of a house next to Jordan Park at 1060 S. 900 West.  Photo courtesy of UNP|||| Since 2003, University Neighborhood Partners, a special U of U department creating pathways to higher education for residents in 84104 and 84116 zip codes, has operated out of a house next to Jordan Park at 1060 S. 900 West. Photo courtesy of UNP|||| ||||

By Charlotte Fife-Jepperson

You may have noticed a house on 900 West on the south end of Jordan Park with a University of Utah flag and a big U on a marquee, and wondered, “Is this a satellite campus for U of U students, or some kind of recruitment office?”

The house serves as headquarters for a special department of the University of Utah called University Neighborhood Partners. UNP has been facilitating partnerships between the U of U campus and Salt Lake City’s west side for over 15 years.

In response to the low enrollment of west side residents from the 84104 and 84116 zip codes at the state’s flagship university, U of U President Bernie Machen created a west side initiative in 2001, and appointed Irene Fisher to develop it.

However, the initiative was not simply a recruitment effort. After conducting extensive interviews with over 250 west side residents and U of U faculty, Fisher laid the groundwork for an organization that would bring together campus and community resources in mutually beneficial partnership work – work that aimed to address barriers to higher education for west side residents.

In a 2011 UNP publication called Community Voices, Fisher described how she and Machen “envisioned a future in which more and more west side youth would pursue higher education.” They also envisioned campus-community partners working together to address social issues – in the areas of employment, housing and health – that impact these neighborhoods.

UNP’s partnership model is based on mutual benefit and respect. Glendale resident and current UNP Advisory Board co-chair Kate Rubalcava said, “In the past, institutions of higher education often utilized the west side as a source of research but not as partners. Through UNP's involvement this has shifted. I see reciprocal learning, action, and benefit as our communities are treated as experts and partners.”

In 2003, UNP established a physical presence on the west side in a house donated by Salt Lake City at 1060 S. 900 W. The house serves primarily as office and meeting space. In 2012, UNP acquired another building at 1575 W. 1700 S. called the Hartland Partnership Center, which allowed the partnership work to expand considerably.

Today, over 70 UNP partnerships are working to create pathways to higher education, to increase community capacity, to support resident leadership, and to engage faculty and students in “community engaged scholarship.”

The network of partnerships is so vast, that it is difficult to wrap your head around the scope of influence UNP is having on the west side and at the U of U.

Take for example, the Westside Leadership Institute, a partnership between U of U faculty and local nonprofit Neighborworks Salt Lake, which supports west side residents in civic action to create positive change. Leadership training is taught in both English and Spanish. Since 2004, nearly 450 residents have graduated from the institute and many have gone on to do meaningful work in the community.

A few of the many graduates of the WLI include: State Representative Sandra Hollins, SLC School Board Representative Tiffany Sandberg, KRCL Radio Talk Show Host Billy Palmer, Chicana artist and Mestizo Institute of Art and Culture Founder Ruby Chacon, and Latino Behavioral Health Services Founder Jaqueline Gomez-Arias. Even this newspaper has benefited from participation in the WLI.

Another partnership that supports resident-led initiatives is the Westside Studio, which connects students from the College of Architecture + Planning with west side organizations and residents to focus on urban planning issues, such as addressing “problem” motels on North Temple or gathering input for the future of the 9 Line trail.

Other partnerships focus on improving educational outcomes in west side schools and empowering parents to become stronger advocates for their children’s education. 

Scholarship funds and other resources also exist through UNP for our residents to have better access to higher education.

UNP Executive Director Sarah Munro said, “UNP’s goal, in all of our work, is reciprocal benefit – where everyone involved in the work, no matter what their background, is able to achieve their goals more effectively by working together. What’s really unique is the process of sharing different perspectives around the table, and coming up with better ideas and solutions as a result.”   

ITALICS: For more information about UNP, visit their website at https://partners.utah.edu.

Charlotte Fife-Jepperson served as a Westside Community Ambassador for UNP in 2002 and co-chair of UNP’s Advisory Board for the past six years. West View Media has benefitted from several partnerships through UNP since 2011.

According to UNP:

In 2016, U of U enrollment and graduation rates from west side neighborhoods had more than tripled since UNP began work in 2003.  In 2002 there were 30 U of U graduates. In 2016, there were 102 graduates.

In 2004 there were 7 partnerships located in 12 locations. Currently there are 70 partnerships in 30 locations, with more planned.