Letter to the editor: South Orange and Seton Hall communities must work together

To the Editor:

The relationship between Seton Hall University and the South Or­ange community can be so much more than what exists today but that’s going to require a lot of work and cooperation.

When I announced my candi­dacy for the South Orange Board of Trustees, one of the first com­ments made to me was, “I bet one of the platform items is to build a vibrant college community” – and he was right.

I’m a proud alumna of Seton Hall, former student body presi­dent and founder of the Village Liaisons Committee, and I spent a lot of time working on town-and-gown relations during my tenure there because I always saw the two paths as interconnected and that still holds true today.

As a member of the Seton Hall family, I owe it to you to speak openly about what needs to be done and that is why I’m writing this letter today.

Your growth is the community’s growth. As you build, expand, and improve your facilities, we need to address long-term plan­ning together. Last year a bill was introduced into the Legislature (A-2586) that would exempt private universities from appearing before local land use bodies for approv­als. Quite frankly, I opposed this and lobbied against it on the state level not because I don’t support your growth, but because I think we are so much better than that. Exemptions to our municipal land use laws don’t build community, they divide communities, so let’s try to take a different approach.

With advanced planning, un­derstanding and transparency, we could build a model for the state in how partnerships work. We don’t need legislative bills to accom­plish this, we need a willingness from all parties to work together and it can be done.

Also, let’s integrate student-learning opportunities and field experiences throughout the town. When I think about programs, projects, and initiatives that are occurring in town, I immediately think about the colleges and de­partments within the university where there are overlaps and op­portunities.

You have a great College of Ed­ucation, we have a school district that could benefit from more stu­dent teachers or coaches or more after school activities. You have an amazing business school with students studying market research, economics, finance, advertising, and management. The town has business corridors and small busi­ness owners who would welcome some projects that would directly help advance building a vibrant retail, shopping, and service ex­perience for everyone. Your po­litical science students could have internships in our Village Hall. Your environmental studies stu­dents can work directly with our Environmental Commission and River Greenway Committee. Do you see where I’m going?

When you walk throughout South Orange, it’s still not clear that this is the home of Seton Hall University – let’s change that. Let’s build some commu­nity pride. The best college com­munities integrate bookstores off campus and attract businesses that drive foot traffic from the uni­versity into the town. The best college communities think about transportation together, such as your SHUFLY and our jitney ser­vices. The best college communi­ties think critically about public safety together, as this is the single most important responsibility we have to one another.

All the pieces to the puzzle are there – it’s just a matter of whether we think it’s worth putting togeth­er. I hope on May 14, I’m elected to the Board of Trustees with my two running mates Steve Schnall and Walter Clarke (www.South­Orange2013.com) because they share my enthusiasm in making this happen. But regardless of that outcome, this election has given us an opportunity to talk about these issues both on campus and throughout town, and what we’ve found is that most people wonder why it hasn’t happened yet.

Sheena Collum

Candidate, South Orange Board of Trustees

Class of 2006

Author: Staff Writer

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