For many, New York City is comprised of a few shining landmarks – the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the vibrant Times Square. In the midst of the bright lights and bustle, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that New York City is a place where people live, grow, work and nurture families. It is this New York that students in the “Two Cities: New York and Toronto” are exposed during the course’s annual fieldtrip.
On Tuesday, Professor of Sociology Jim Spates and Associate Professor of Economics Jo Beth Mertens will lead students in this flagship Urban Studies course to New York. The course aims to expose students to the cities of Toronto and New York at “street-level.” Through its inhabitants, its infrastructure and its history, students gain the perspective and the experiences needed to analyze the city from a sophisticated and well-rounded point of view.
“This trip is always exciting,” says Spates, who has led students on the trip since the 1980s. “The trips are never quite the same. We’re trying to show the students the city as a living reality -that there is more to it than what they see in books, lectures or films. The key is to make them see the city as a real thing made-up of real people – that is when stereotypes begin to fall away.”
“It’s important to show them that New York is five boroughs – not just Manhattan,” says Spates. “Many of my students say it’s the most important course they took at HWS.”
A favorite aspect of the trip is the group visit to the Doe Fund, an organization that works to rehabilitate homeless men. Connected to the foundation for a number of years, students have the unique opportunity to join men in their day’s work sweeping streets and hearing their harrowing stories.
This year, students will also have the opportunity to visit St. Anne’s Church in the South Bronx. The Rev. Martha Overall will connect students with children the church helps to educate through afterschool programs and tutoring opportunities. By assisting the children with their schoolwork, HWS students will have the chance to see the integral role such institutions play in educating children in the city.
Director of “Hive at 55” Daria Siegel ’04 is scheduled to take students on a tour of her organization, which seeks to provide working space for small business owners, entrepreneurs and freelancers. Siegel will help to illuminate the life of young entrepreneurs in the city, and students will also have the chance to meet with alum Brian DiFeo ’00, community manager at “Hive at 55.”
In addition to the less traditional sites, students will tour the financial district, visit Bishop Hobart’s grave in Trinity Church, explore Times Square, and see the city laid out from atop the Empire State Building. They will have the chance to meet with the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street movement, including alum and former Two Cities student Meggie Schmidt ’10.
“We never regard ourselves as tourists when we are on this trip, but rather as students,” explains Spates. “As professors, we want the students to see themselves as people who can make a difference in cities; in the places they live – to get them involved.”
The class will embark on the second part of their journey – a trip to Toronto – on April 25.
The photo above features students in last year’s trip in New York City.