Bridging the High Street divide: Community power and the pursuit of democratic partnerships between Ohio State University and Weinland Park

Byron P White, University of Pennsylvania


Many administrators and scholars of U.S. urban universities have proclaimed that sustained engagement between institutions of higher education and neighboring communities is essential to the future of higher education and the revitalization of urban neighborhoods. They call for mutually beneficial university-community partnerships that emphasize trust and equity between the partners. However, many resident leaders of these communities desire truly democratic partnerships that go beyond trust to draw upon the community's capacity to lead problem-solving initiatives and to produce significant community transformation. This dissertation sought to understand how universities and economically disadvantaged communities pursue such partnerships, given the overwhelming advantage that universities have in terms of financial resources, political clout, and professional expertise. Using qualitative research methods, I examined five partnerships established between 2002 and 2007 by Ohio State University and leaders of Weinland Park, a low-income neighborhood that borders campus. Through interviews with 17 university and community representatives, I sought to answer two research questions: (1) What qualities of democratic partnerships were evident in the engagement between Ohio State and Weinland Park? (2) How did the community and university seek to create and sustain these partnerships? I found that a critical element in determining how much progress was made toward achieving democratic partnerships was the level of social power or influence that the community was able to employ. The type of power experienced by the community was determined in large part by the ability or willingness of university representatives to engage the community in an intimate, personal manner, and in a more formal, institutional manner. Only one of the five partnerships engaged the community on both fronts. In doing so, it elicited high levels of community satisfaction and showed potential to achieve highly ambitious outcomes. From these findings, I identified three models of how Ohio State representatives operated in the community and explained how those models impacted the university's ability to generate community power. Conclusions drawn from this study will equip urban college and university faculty and administrators as well as community leaders with insight into creating democratic partnerships through shared power.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

White, Byron P, "Bridging the High Street divide: Community power and the pursuit of democratic partnerships between Ohio State University and Weinland Park" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3311543.