$5 Million Grant Grows Capacity of UC San Diego’s ‘Community Stations’
Support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ensures innovative campus initiative will continue its community-engaged work on both sides of U.S.-Mexico border
It’s hard to deny there are social and environmental challenges at the San Diego-Tijuana border. But where some fold their hands in despair or show up to protest vociferously yet briefly, others see vibrant opportunities and stay to do the hard work of addressing the challenges. One such other is the “Community Stations” initiative, established in 2012 and operating out of the UC San Diego Center on Global Justice, which seeks to make meaningful change in partnership with underserved communities across the border region.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation initially invested in the Community Stations with a $1 million grant in 2016. It has now renewed its support of the innovative initiative with a $5-million grant for the next five years.
The Community Stations is directed by Fonna Forman, a political scientist in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, with architect-urbanist Teddy Cruz, a professor of visual arts in the Division of Arts and Humanities.
Cruz and Forman describe the Community Stations as “a network of public spaces located in vulnerable neighborhoods across the border region where the university and communities meet to share knowledges and resources and to collaborate on research, dialogue, cultural and educational activities as well as urban design-build projects.”
The initiative “brings the knowledge of communities into university research and the knowledge of the university into communities,” said Cruz. “This way we create a two-way flow that increases agency and capacity all around.”
Dianne Harris, senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation, said: “The Community Stations initiative was founded through an ethic of mutual respect, trust and care, and serves as an outstanding example of community engagement. This project provides a model for universities that seek to co-create solutions with the multiple publics they serve to address the grand challenges of our time and to move towards justice, and we look forward to watching their work progress in the years ahead.”
By connecting faculty and students from throughout the campus with community partners in our binational region, the Community Stations initiative enhances UC San Diego’s mission as a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public university, said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.
“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous support of the initiative, which we consider an embodiment of some of our most cherished principles, including dedication to social justice and to experiential education,” Khosla said. “As we strive to better reflect and serve the diverse population of California, by becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution, for example, the Community Stations shows us how transformative partnering with community can be and how the transformation works both ways, changing us all for the better.”
There are currently four community stations in the network, at four different sites in the San Diego-Tijuana region, two on each side of the border. Each is a partnership with a different community organization and each is co-developed, both physically and programmatically, by the UC San Diego initiative in collaboration with its partners. Each station is focused on the particular set of challenges facing those communities. Moving north to south, they are known as:
- “The UCSD-EarthLab Community Station,” in the southeast San Diego neighborhood of Encanto, is a partnership with the environmental justice non-profit Groundwork San Diego. The site operates as an outdoor “climate action park”, focused on educational disparity; informal K-12 environmental education; and participatory climate action.
- “The UCSD-Casa Community Station,” located in the border neighborhood of San Ysidro, in partnership with the social service non-profit Casa Familiar, is focused on arts and culture; migration and citizenship; social housing and public space. This station lives inside of a social housing development that celebrated its opening in Feb. 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the initiative to pivot to remote programming.
- “The UCSD-Divina Community Station,” located in the informal settlement of Los Laureles Canyon on the periphery of Tijuana, Mexico, in partnership with the civil association Colonos de la Divina Providencia, addresses health disparities; binational water and waste management; environmental conservancy and remediation; and adaptation to the accelerating impacts of climate change.
- “The UCSD-Alacrán Community Station,” both the newest and the southernmost community station, is located in a refugee camp in an area of Tijuana known as Little Haiti. A partnership with the faith-based organization Embajadores de Jesús, it is focused on migration and asylum; health disparities; rethinking the migrant shelter as a space of inclusion; and social and economic development.
The new award from the Mellon Foundation will help build the initiative’s “humanities infrastructure,” said Cruz and Forman. It will support vital educational and cultural programming, as well as community-based research, at all four stations.
Like the first gift from Mellon, this grant will continue to fund undergraduate summer field internships at the stations. It will also help expand academic-year offerings for undergraduates and make possible increased graduate-student and faculty participation in the program with “Community Station Collaboratories”—or year-long topical, interdisciplinary projects by graduate students—and seed grants for faculty projects. Forman and Cruz anticipate that much of the grant’s first year will be dedicated to laying the groundwork for these new elements.
The program will also continue looking to raise endowment funds for its long-term foundation.
“The San Diego-Tijuana border zone is a microcosm of injustices and indignities experienced by vulnerable people across the globe—political violence, climate disruption, rising migration, deepening inequality and the steady decay of public thinking,” said Forman. “Our commitment with the Community Stations is to advocate for a systemic approach to injustice, which isn’t just something abstract and far away, but experienced here intensely, locally every day. With the Community Stations, we’re dedicated to cultural, institutional and spatial transformation in the border region.”