The Cincinnati Project Symposium: Bringing Voices Together for Change

Cincinnati, Ohio—Educators, students, thought-leaders and community activists convened on Friday, Feb. 16, for the fourth annual symposium of The Cincinnati Project (TCP) at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Through presentations and panel discussions, the symposium explored issues of social equity in greater Cincinnati, and how university and community partnerships can help advance that cause. 

Two-term Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson delivered the keynote address on the the topic of “Our Collective Voices: Working to Achieve Equity Together.” Speaking to a crowd of some 250 people, Simpson said, “This issue of equity is so crucial and critical to all the goings on that are happening around the city, and I just want to thank [the TCP] for using the wisdom, knowledge and resources to elevate this issue.”

The symposium, held at UC’s African American Cultural and Resource Center (AACRC), brought together university and community leaders who share concern about greater Cincinnati statistics, such as: 

  • In 2013, The New York Times ranked Cincinnati as one of the least economically mobile cities in the nation.
  • Cincinnati has the second highest child poverty rate in the nation.
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital ranks in the top 3 hospitals in the nation, but life expectancy for children in the surrounding neighborhoods is more than 10 years below the national average.

[Source: The AMOS Project

The Cincinnati Project

Sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), The Cincinnati Project was designed to expand knowledge of the social dynamics of urban places through research projects. Ultimately, its goal is to connect college faculty with organizations that serve marginalized people and communities to bring about positive change. This year’s symposium was sponsored by the Taft Research Center, A&S, and the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Since fully launching in January of 2016, TCP has grown to include nearly 400 A&S faculty and students and more than 30 community organizations.

The TCP Symposium

This year, the TCP symposium provided an opportunity to “share examples of the great community-partnered research being done by faculty and students in A&S,” said TCP co-founder and Associate Dean for Social Sciences Jennifer Malat. 


“We like to represent the broad range of types of partnerships in The Cincinnati Project,” Malat said. “The second goal this year was to have more conversations about how TCP—and UC more broadly—can be an effective partner in moving toward greater equity in Cincinnati. We invited Yvette Simpson to be our keynote speaker to highlight the importance of working together across the city.”

The morning began with student presentations, including sociology PhD candidate Shaonta Allen's summary of the Cincinnati Community Perception Survey Report. The survey, taken by more than 1,000 Cincinnati area residents, evaluated public perception of the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement, an effort begun in 2002 to find ways to improve community-police relations. 

Connecting UC and community marked the theme for the day, and made for a new approach to the TCP format, said Curtis Webb, TCP project coordinator and PhD candidate in Sociology. In the past, symposia have been comparatively inward-focused and academic, featuring research presentations, he said, but this year exceeded expectations. “We feel like this year more than ever, the symposium really reflected our diversity. Every year it’s growing, evolving, getting better.”  

The panel discussions “Power, Partnerships, and Progress” and “Collaborating Across Cincinnati” rounded out the afternoon, with participants including A&S faculty Brian Calfano (Political Science/Journalism), Farrah Jacquez (Psychology) and Shaunak Sastry (Communication) tackling tough topics with area activists, including community organizer Iris Roley, Jeniece Jones of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Bianca Edwards of The AMOS Project and Karen Bankston of the Child Poverty Collaborative.  

At times, the conversation about community partnerships were challenging. “We have to create collaboratives and bring people together who don’t like one another,” Bankston said. “We have to talk about things they don’t like to talk about...if we cannot break and disrupt the system to create a new system of being, then we might as well all just go home, because what we have today isn’t working.”

For his part, Webb welcomed the candor. “I think we really enjoyed the honest discussions,” he said. 

Malat agreed: “Both of these panels included Arts & Sciences faculty and people from outside UC candidly discussing some of the challenges of this work,” she said. “We hoped the panel discussions would be both challenging and productive, and I think we achieved that goal.”