Photo by chickenscrawl via Flickr/Creative Commons
Photo by chickenscrawl via Flickr/Creative Commons
Photo by chickenscrawl via Flickr/Creative Commons

While crime rates have fallen in neighboring areas surrounding the University of Southern California’s campuses in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, new concerns about family violence have emerged, a recent USC report shows.

The USC State of the Neighborhood is a two-year study focused on community conditions in the two neighborhoods surrounding the University Park Campus (South LA) and Health Sciences Campus (Boyle Heights).

The study, released this spring, is meant to take a comprehensive look at community conditions that shape opportunities of residents. In 1992 USC embarked on an initiative to develop partnerships with the community and help guide activities in civic engagement. The new study takes a more comprehensive look at whether those priorities are still on target and what the current conditions and needs are in the different communities.

In the past, areas of concern have included topics such as successful schools, healthy families, connecting campus and community, thriving businesses and safe streets.

Two methods were used to assess community conditions, including indicators of demographics and census tract data, as well as focus groups with community residents.

Boyle Heights Beat spoke to USC Keck School of Medicine Professor and Associate Vice Provost Hortensia Amaro, PH.D. who lead the preparation of the report.

If you would like to hear more about the results and share your feedback, RSVP at conniev@usc.edu to attend the State of the Neighborhood event at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 19 at the East LA Weingart YMCA.

BHB: Was there anything that stood out as surprising that you learned while assessing these neighborhoods? Something that perhaps wasn’t a priority area two decades ago?

H.A.: People are pretty aware of the rate of poverty in both areas, but one thing that surprised a lot of people was the high rate of child abuse allegations that we found both in the Health Sciences Campus surrounding communities and the communities surrounding the University Park Campus area. There really hadn’t been much focus on issues of family violence. Child abuse is like the tip of the iceberg as an indicator of that. It has important implications for not only health and development of the kids but also may be reflective of a lot of stress that families are experiencing, whether related to economic condition or other stressors.

BHB: What do you do with this kind of information, now that you have it?

H.A.: This is one piece of the data that we felt we need to know more about- what contributes to this and how are these families affected so we can be more informed about how to intervene, and how to do prevention, and develop programs in collaboration with local residents and community-based organizations that help to address this need.

BHB: From the focus groups, what was a typical participant concern about their communities?

H.A.: The more typical things that people weren’t surprised about, because of a general awareness in the community, is resident concerns about all of the development efforts coming in from all around, particularly from downtown and their concerns about how that will impact their community particularly if there is gentrification and increase in rent, property values, will force people to move out, and will there be displacement.

Residents are concerned, or would like to see development happen in a way that it benefits current residents rather than displace them. How to do that will take a lot of work by local residents and community based organizations, to make sure those that live there will benefit from the development.

BHB: In what areas can USC be doing a better job in community engagement?

H.A.: We found through the focus groups that a lot of the participants really were not aware of the different programs that USC provides in the community and felt the need to not only know about those but also other services that are provided in the community.

USC could do a better job in getting information out there in a way that’s accessible to residents about programs that are available through the University, so that their families and kids could take advantage of them.

More broadly speaking, I think that this is an issue that should be a concern to local elected officials and to community-based organizations because there seems to be a whole set of services that people need and could use but don’t know about.

BHB: What are your hopes coming out of this project?

H.A.: My hopes are that people will use this report as a resource. Community- based organizations can use it to inform their priorities, their programming, use data for grant applications.

Second is that different stakeholders, university as well as community-based organizations, will use it to think about their priorities and about forming collaborations across sectors to address some of the recommendations.

My hope is that people will use the report to move agendas forward in improving community conditions. Another hope is that through some of the recommendations, that faculty and community stakeholders can work together and collaborate on some of the areas that we need more research on like child abuse and neglect and ways to foster economic development. Also that we have is that we will find a way to more consistently and systematically organize our civic engagement efforts.

This interview was edited for clarity.

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