Pandemic Urbanism

May 22, 2020

The Role of the Community-engaged, Urban-serving University in Times of Crisis

By Rubén Casas (
Assistant Professor, University of Washinton Tacoma

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in the closing plenary session, from 4:30 – 5:30 PM on May 29, 2020.

In the midst and wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting crisis, urban-serving, community-engaged campuses have an opportunity to assess, test, and revise certain tenets underlining engagement that may have otherwise gone unexamined. This presentation examines the ability of one Carnegie-designated Community-engaged campus to leverage its existing resources to respond quickly and expediently to the needs of its internal community and external partners, while also noting those instances in which the campus was less able to enact a new role or play a different one as it moved its operations online, and its students, faculty, staff, and partners enacted social distancing. Taking this campus’ early lessons as a starting point, this presentation poses these questions: How does an urban-serving, community-engaged campus prepare for the continuation of its mission and commitment to engagement when it is forced to move most or all of its functions into the virtual realm? How does a university build partnerships in the physical realm that remain useful and productive in the virtual realm? How does the community-engaged campus build a more robust and resilient “infrastructure of partnership” that allows for continuity in engagement in times of crisis, and which enables it to support its most vulnerable members and partners. Finally, this presentation invites members of community-engaged and so-called “anchor campuses” to reconsider what it means to be an urban-serving university and/or community-engaged campus in an era in which potential and looming crisis will continue to force us into virtual realms and spaces with little warning.