UTSA’s partnership bolsters its connection to the historic Westside

Mason Hickok, Editor-in-Chief

The Westside of San Antonio is a culturally-rich and historic part of the city. While poverty persists, there is a palpable resilience among the residents in the area. UTSA’s Downtown Campus is a three-minute drive from UTSA’s Westside Community Center (WCC) — one of many community centers that paint the civic landscape of the community. 

Located at 1310 Guadalupe St., the WCC is in the same neighborhood as the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, the Guadalupe Theater and the Plaza Guadalupe. The center is led by Roger Enriquez J.D., an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at UTSA. Enriquez also serves as the executive director of the Westside Partnerships Initiative, a role which he has held since June 2020. Enriquez defines the initiative as a “hyperlocal, place-based community engagement initiative.” 

“Many universities have looked at a hyperlocal approach, maybe looking at a specific neighborhood or ZIP code,” Enriquez said. “Right now, the Westside Community Partnerships encompasses five or six different ZIP codes on the Westside. [But] most of our efforts are in 78207, which is probably one of the poorest ZIP codes in the country. It’s what we call the historic Westside.”

Having a tangible, physical building as a foundation for community service is vital. Enriquez described the motto by which the WCC inspires adaptability. 

“One of the ways that I refer to the center itself is sort of a ‘front porch to the university for the community,’” Enriquez said. “Having the space is really a huge difference. This is truly an effort to adapt how we do things. Having a storefront affords us the opportunity to be convenient to the community and to have access to the university.”

The WCC opened its doors in 2019. Members just celebrated its three-year anniversary on Mexican Independence Day, dieciséis de Septiembre (Sept. 16) — a symbolic day of celebration. While much of their early days were spent operating during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Enriquez spoke about the center’s importance to the community.

“We found a few challenges along the way. But, we also realized that the community needed us the most during that time. [In] February [and] March of 2020, we sort of launched our first academic type initiative around digital literacy ambassadors. We would have students come in and help people navigate the web and get things done online.”

Recently, the Westside Community Partnerships Initiative was honored as a recipient of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Enriquez described the process by which the Westside Community Partnership received the award.

The UTSA Westside Community Partnerships Initiative was recently named a regional winner of the 2022 W. K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Photo courtesy of the Westside Community Center

“The organization that grants it — APLU — is our trade association for large, public universities,” Enriquez said. “APLU puts out a call for exemplary, community-engaged programs. They call it the Magrath Award, and in order to be eligible, you first have to be a Kellogg recipient.”

The Kellogg award is given to universities on a regional basis. UTSA won for the West and will now compete with the other Kellogg recipients — the University of Georgia, the University of Vermont and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The winner of the Magrath award will be decided in November. The award is $20,000 and an additional $5,000 for the award winner’s future work. 

In 1994, UTSA was classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution. According to their website, this means, among other things, that UTSA strives to “underpin our commitment to positioning Hispanic students, staff and faculty for growth, leadership and success.” Enriquez described how the Kellogg award and future work with the WCC would uphold those attributions. 

“I think it’s an important aspect of our work,” Enriquez said. “As UTSA moves to be a model Hispanic Serving Institution, they [UTSA] have really taken the lead. I have to give credit to President Eighmy because I think he has recognized our role as a sort of leader just by virtue of demographics.”

Experiential learning is defined as “any learning experience that is active, hands-on and engaging.” At UTSA, this practice is fostered and encouraged for undergraduate and graduate student involvement. Enriquez spoke about how experiential learning relates to the work being done at the WCC.

“The first batch of digital ambassadors came through the Najim Center, which is quite frankly 100% dedicated to this notion of experiential learning,” Enriquez said. 

Enriquez highlighted some of the many ways in which the UTSA community can get involved with the WCC. One of these is through civic engagement projects published on GivePulse — an online portal for the UTSA community to find service opportunities. 

“We often use students to help assist us with outreach projects that are involved,” Enriquez said. “Some of those are posted in GivePulse. People will see opportunities where we are looking for assistance from students to do something.”

More on the Westside Community Partnerships Initiative can be found on their website. In addition, information on some of the other existing efforts to strengthen the Westside can be found in UTSA’s Westside Allied Sombrilla magazine. The WCC is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays or by appointment.