Post by Tyler Strosnider, Kasey Clayton, Nicole Loan, Madison Farabaugh and Chris Gothard, Honors Civic Engagement
Mayor Deanna R. Reed and Vice Mayor Sal Romero visited JMU Students on March 20 to discuss over dinner, the necessity of to continue to building intentional, authentic and reciprocal relationships between the city and JMU. During the discussion, Mayor Reed and Vice Mayor Romero discussed many issues that affect both city residents and JMU students.
Mayor Reed expressed concern about the formation of two separate communities—the Harrisonburg community and the JMU community. She called on students to bridge that gap by getting involved and being active participants in the locality. Mayor Reed said, “[students at JMU] need to connect with the community that you live in.” She urged students to not break into separate “bubbles” and encouraged students to serve the community around campus. Mayor Reed also noted the impact that students of JMU can have on local politics. Reed emphasized the effect students have on local politics by pointing to the noise ordinance, which was voted down when members of the student body became involved in the conversation. Mayor Reed wanted students to know that they have a voice, that their voice matters and will be listened to and taken into consideration when the city is making decisions.
Vice Mayor Romero focused his talk on the various issues in the city. One topic that he covered extensively was education. Vice Mayor Romero noted the overcrowding at the local high school and talked about the different proposals being discussed to address the problem. Vice Mayor Romero noted that building a second high school could cost an estimated at $60-90 million. There is also concern about the inclusivity of the new school and the city doesn’t want to see a separation between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the community. One of the proposals is to raise taxes to afford this new structure, but local representatives will face backlash. Vice Mayor Romero also noted that he wished to beat the 2023 deadline for opening the educational space that is necessary to accommodate the students’ who are experiencing overcrowding. In regards to education, Reed circled back to building bridges and asserted, “you [JMU Students] have to fight for the kids in the high school.”
Among the numerous opinions on education, immigration, criminal justice, and affordable housing, both the mayor and vice mayor emphasized the need for inclusivity in the Friendly City and how it is at the very core of Harrisonburg’s values.
Our beloved bird scooters, were one of the many highlights of the student-led conversation. These scooters were approved by the city council in the fall, and in the following days rampaged all across Harrisonburg in the hundreds. Within days, over 700 motorized scooters were dotted all across our community. With so many birds, Harrisonburg did not have enough parking space for all these scooters, and the careless placement of them by the public resulted in increased mobilization for the abolition of these scooters. A major contributor in the mobilization to terminate these scooters, was that a JMU student was hit while riding one of these scooters; this pushed City Council over the edge, and further mobilized efforts to abolish these scooters. As stated by Vice Mayor Romero: “We weren’t prepared for an influx of 500 scooters. A lot of people loved them; we were concerned for safety.”
Immigration, a world-wide topic of interest, was brought more locally as Mayor Reed and Vice Mayor Romero addressed the students. Mayor Reed explained that her main concern: “How do we make this community a place where people feel safe?” Vice-Mayor Romero explained that the local sheriff has an agreement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has led to tension in the area and many immigrants not reaching out for aid when it is needed because they are fearful, even if they are here with documents. Both the mayor and vice-mayor explained the crisis of affordable housing the city of Harrisonburg is currently facing. Mayor Reed expressed her disappointment in Harrisonburg’s affordable housing system and explained that landlords are taking advantage of people who can’t advocate for themselves, and pointed out the lack of available housing for low income families. “We need to be more intentional,” said Mayor Reed, “We don’t want there to be any labels. We need a diversity of cultures and this takes intentional planning.”
It is difficult to talk about theses issues and come to a consensus because there are always two sides to an issue as well as various ways to implement a new idea. This is one of that challenges of being a leader in the community. Nonetheless, by being more politically engaged, every student can express their perspectives regarding ways to better our community, because despite being college students, we are still a part of Harrisonburg and these issues impact students too. Mayor Reed and Vice Mayor Romero emphasized that the continuous purpose of their public service is to unite voices by encouraging participation from many different backgrounds.
So what bridges are you building? How will you involve yourself in Harrisonburg and what role will you play to better our community?