eric headshotby Eric Ginsburg

The idea hit me a couple dozen comments deep on a Facebook thread discussing, among other things, the disconnect between Winston-Salem music venues and local college students. The problem isn’t unique to Winston, nor is it moored to the music scene in particular.
There’s something inherently inward-facing about college campuses, these self-contained quasi-intentional communities. And part of the solution for that, as I’ve proposed in this column before, is more cross-campus learning opportunities that also connect college kids with the cities around them.
“Picture an urban-planning class with UNCG geography students and Bennett College political-science majors crafting ideas for how to encourage affordable housing in Greensboro,” I wrote last September. “What if UNCSA kids and WSSU metal-design students created a public-art project together?”
A complementary idea, and one that would require much less bureaucratic approval or planning, would be an alternative orientation. Get ’em right when they arrive in town, and reinforce it later with experiential learning opportunities.
It could initially take the form of an unofficial orientation guide, a physical document highlighting important items of interest. The Field Guide being produced by Winston-Salem design group Airtype offers elements of that. I’d like to think that every issue of this paper, which is available on our college campuses, does as well. Students at Guilford College, twice in the last decade or so, put out a “disorientation guide” for new students offering a less glossy introduction than the school’s first-year experience lab.
But none of that really goes far enough. What if, in addition to the other avenues for engaging students with the broader community, there were actual events in each Triad city’s downtown during the first week of college each year? I’m talking about something much broader than the Get Down!Town college street party Greensboro held back when I was a student here, but whatever happened to that anyway?
It could be set up like a self-guided walking tour, with distributed maps indicating entities participating in an open house of sorts. Or maybe the alternative orientation would look more like a touristy bus with a conductor pointing out stops over a microphone. I rode one such bus in Barcelona both as a way to learn about the city and for transit, because it let you hop off at any stop and then circled back for you later.
Maybe the concept calls for a more commercial approach, with businesses agreeing to a weeklong discount for college kids.
Eventually colleges could be convinced to participate, with RAs handing out guides and informing their charges about the alternative, citywide orientation. But however the idea takes shape, it will require a unified effort, one that could be organized by a group like the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership or Opportunity Greensboro. Or hell, an enterprising college student with enough time for an independent study to mull it all over.

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