Christine Drennon, associate professor of sociology and anthropology and director of the urban studies program, recently received the Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award for 2014 by the Urban Affairs Association and San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside for the impact her research and activism has had in promoting the development of San Antonio’s East side.
“The Eastside of San Antonio has been for generations the forgotten side of town and money got sucked out of there in every single form and invested elsewhere. Because of that, it deteriorated physically and organizationally had to manage on its own for a long time,” Drennon said.
The local government and other organizations have only recently began attempting to address the problems this neighborhood faces. At this time, the urban studies program at Trinity has and continues to facilitate how to collectively bring about change.
“The problem was that there were so many problems and that they were under so many different jurisdictions. Some were housing problems. Some were school problems. Some were city problems like roads and stray dogs. In order to bring that place up to where the rest of the city is, people had to start working together. And that’s where the university came in because we don’t have a stake in the game,” Drennon said.
Urban studies students have worked alongside Drennon to create focus groups, conduct interviews and hand out surveys all in an effort to capture the voice of the community so that those who live on the East side can be apart of the changes happening. The Trinity Project in this area has involved synchronizing the interests of different entities in this area to work together for a common good.
“Often there’s a lot of decisions that can be made by bureaucracies that don’t involve community and that is one place we’ve played a significant role in trying to capture community voice because sometimes the community is left out of the decision-making process,” Drennon said.
The urban studies program is an interdisciplinary major that focuses on the phenomenon of urbanization through various perspectives that students can chose from. Through the projects and internships available, students can witness urbanization and urban issues happening in San Antonio.
“The students that come through really have a tremendous commitment to public service: they want to make the world a better place, but do it on a very local level. This is where we get inspired, by seeing regular people have a voice and representation,” Drennon said.
The work spearheaded by Drennon that continues to be done on the East side has also given urban studies students opportunities to obtain tangible research experiences that they can take with them after leaving Trinity.
“Academically, from a very early time in my undergraduate career, I was able to do real, hands-on social research. It’s not just about going out and studying people, but going out and studying people and helping people with what you find out. Professionally, I was able to pursue an internship because of the interest that was sparked by the work I got to do my sophomore year,” said senior Michelle Padley.
Nicole Goodman, an urban studies major of the class of 2013, has also personally collaborated with Drennon and has observed first hand Drennon’s passion.
“One of the first urban studies projects I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Drennon on was community research on the East side for the Wheatley Choice Neighborhood,” Goodman said through email. “As a student and a mentee, it was clear from the start that Drennon cares deeply about the community members there and that her passion for the community is what drives her work.”
Goodman, now a research analyst and project manager at Centro San Antonio, said that Drennon met with residents at the community’s Neighborhood Night Out and got to know them face to face.
“It was very important to Drennon. As I watched her interact with residents and community members that she clearly knew so well, it became obvious that Drennon’s work on the East side was and is a labor of love. It was the first of many instances I would experience as a student of Drennon taking the time to teach her students why we do the work that we do,” Goodman said. “It’s great to see her be recognized for her efforts. Drennon taught me what it means to be passionate about my work.”
Though much has been done to initiate change and growth on the East side, there is still more work to be done.
“People talk about San Antonio 2020 and talk about how San Antonio is growing and becoming more healthy, but I truly believe that San Antonio will not be healthy until the East side is healthy. There is so much potential there,” Padley said.