University-Northside partnership expected to go forward despite concernsby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The University of Minnesota has plans to build a multi-million dollar health, education and economic development project in north Minneapolis. The U of M promises the project will help bring opportunities to an area where residents have historically lacked such benefits. However, the plan has sparked strong reaction by some African-Americans in the area. There are fears the university won't follow up on its promises and will abandon the area. Others oppose the plan because it includes a mental health research facility, which they claim will treat African-Americans like guinea pigs.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The University-Northside Partnership has been in the works for several months. During that time, school officials like University vice president Dr. Robert Jones have been out in public promoting the plan to community groups in North Minneapolis.
"We feel that we cannot be just a big research institution doing research on those things that people write about in the popular press," he told a group in the Hawthorne neighborhood. "We also need to be working really closely with the communities we're a part of, to address real world, contemporary issues."
The north side of Minneapolis is home to large concentrations of African-Americans and other people of color. Statistically speaking, these populations have historically found themselves caught in educational, economic and health care disparities.
Jones says the university is poised to lend its resources and scholarly expertise on these issues directly to residents and to other community agencies. For example, the plan includes a business incubator that will help provide technical and management consultation to small business owners.
Jones says the facility will also contain a mental health facility that will focus on families and children.
"That's the component of the program that's been somewhat controversial to some parts of the community in north Minneapolis, because some have chosen to twist it and frame it in a negative context," Jones said.
This week, several dozen people attended a meeting of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council to vote on the U of M program. Some notices were distributed that told residents they'd have a chance to vote at the meeting that was scheduled from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. Other notices listed the time of the vote to occur and be tabulated by 7:30. There were complaints that people coming late would miss their chance to weigh in on the issue.
"This is a bogus vote. The university and everybody else ought to be ashamed, trying to sell us out," said Alfred Flowers, a north side activist.
The dispute over the vote - which went in favor of the partnership 41-4 - highlights some deep-seated fears and anger among some African-mericans.
"We've been researched enough. We know what the problem is," says activist Carol White.
White has been conducting regular demonstrations on the proposed site of the facility, at the intersection of Plymouth and Penn avenues.
Part of White's opposition stems from broken promises made by other big development projects which have come to the north side. She says the community needs economic health, not more research on mental health.
The memories of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments, which began more than 70 years ago and ended in 1972, are still fresh. And White has concerns about the type of research that will be conducted there under the direction of Dr. Dante Cicchetti.
"His research is in genetic and neural psychological pathology. OK? And that is disease of the brain and genetics -- that we do things because of our makeup. So I have a real concern with that," says White.
Dante Cicchetti says his treatment is based on talk therapy. Since he's a doctor of philosophy, not a medical doctor, he cannot prescribe drugs.
Cicchetti received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota 20 years ago, and has taught at Harvard. He left Harvard to a start mental health clinic in Rochester, New York. And he says he's seen similar initial reactions to his work.
"The word research has really negative connotations to a lot of African-Americans, and rightfully so," he says.
Cicchetti says he's also seen those types of concerns disappear, once the results of his work come to bear.
Cicchetti specializes in treating children who've been abused, neglected or who have parents with depression. He says patients can volunteer to allow their treatment to be part of a research study. Cicchetti says his research will allow him to keep in touch with patients after they've been treated, and use the data to help others.
"Abused and neglected kids form insecure attachments. And it's a major problem. And it sets the stage for lots of things in life," Cicchetti says. "It's not that it's the only problem they have, but a major problem they have are very poor quality child-parent relationships."
Cicchetti says his research and treatment have been successful in reducing the rates of placement into foster care of children he worked with in Rochester. He says he'd like to duplicate those results in north Minneapolis. However, he says if there's too much resistance to the facility there, he's confident the university can find a place for it in another part of the city.
Northside Residents Redevelopment Council Executive Director Sherrie Pugh says she's confident the facility will go forward in north Minneapolis. She says the project's opponents are not in the majority.
But Pugh says she understands some of the concern some have about a large, powerful institution like the U of M coming into the neighborhood.
"People are very concerned that the university would come in and they'd leave, because there have been other projects that have come in and they've left," she says. "First and foremost is the whole idea of accountability, long term commitment and sustainability, and growth of university programs in the community."
The neighborhood group has proposed a community benefits agreement, intended to ensure that the university's presence in north Minneapolis will have a lasting, positive impact on the area.
Pugh says she would like to see the U of M commit to enrolling graduates from north side high schools and to help keep good-paying jobs in the area.