CrossingBorders reflects changing community

Bionca Rogers and her daughter, DeVariana Nelson, mimic their image in a mural they helped paint at the Broadway Street Neighborhood Center. The mural, a product of a project called, was created to tell visual stories of people living on the southeast side of Iowa City. Photo by Tim Schoon. is a new online space for local art, journalism, and storytelling that strives to reflect the changing community of Iowa City. The site highlights outreach work that University of Iowa faculty and students are doing in southeast Iowa City: narratives, photo essays, forums, documentaries, and news reports.

Three UI doctoral students—Raquel Baker (English), Ted Gutsche (journalism and mass communication), and Daniel Kinney (art education)—envisioned the project as fellows at the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy. Sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the Graduate College, the institute focuses on service learning and community engagement in the classroom.

“There’s a real social justice call here,” Gutsche says. “We have to demonstrate to communities outside the University that we are engaged, we can be trusted, and we aren’t here to polarize.”

One project featured on the site is a “blueprint for change” in southeast Iowa City, developed by graduate students in the UI School of Urban and Regional Planning during the spring semester. It describes ways to make Iowa City more “welcoming, accessible, and fair.”

Information on
Blueprint for change:

Southeast Side forum:

Collaborative mural:

“To undo racism will take a large community effort. We know we can’t do it alone,” says Sue Freeman, program director for the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. “There are real recommendations that give citizens and policymakers a blueprint for what they can do. The students took a look at sustainable community development efforts and showed us what they look like.”

In 2010, the UI Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI) hosted a forum for Iowa City residents to respectfully discuss the topics of race and class in the city’s southeast side during a three-part Public Rhetoric Seminar Series.

Currently, Kinney is working with the Broadway Neighborhood Center to collect and share stories in a collaborative mural. Participation is open to all center users.

“The idea is it will be an ongoing, generative piece that people from the neighborhood center could continue to add their stories to in visual form,” Kinney says. “They’re taking a picture of themselves and putting a silhouette of themselves from this picture onto the mural.”

Gutsche believes sharing these stories will help people shape their ideas at a public policy level.

“There are so many projects going on,” Gutsche says. “What I’m hearing is positive in that if we can track them and get people to share what’s going on, we’d be surprised by the kind of change that happens.”

People are encouraged to share their stories about moving to Iowa City, living here, and studying here by visiting

“This project is about highlighting the cultural changes happening in the city, especially regarding the growing southeast side and the migrations of residents to Iowa City from Chicago,” Gutsche says.

As Obermann Center fellows, Baker, Gutsche, and Kinney learned theories and best practices in preparation for collaborating with community members, local educators, and students. Those interactions provided the inspiration to work on this grassroots project that provides a multimedia outlet for interactive storytelling.

“The Obermann Center has played a vital role in bringing together publicly engaged scholars to share our work and resources with one another,” Kinney says. “Ted, Raquel, and I were able to merge our specific interests into this project, which we believe will serve as a much-needed forum for community members to voice their thoughts, concerns, stories, and experiences.”

This summer, Baker and Gutsche will teach a journalism class for Upward Bound students from Johnson and Muscatine counties, during which the students will provide storytelling about the changing city. Upward Bound is part of the UI Center for Diversity & Enrichment.

In spring 2012, Baker and Gutsche will teach an English general education literature class in which students will learn narrative theory and write stories about southeast Iowa City residents.

“Constructing stories is how we understand ourselves,” Baker says. “The key thing is to be respectful and not be like, ‘We’re coming here to tell your story.’ We have to already have a relationship with that community before bringing in the students.”

Baker, Gutsche, and Kinney are partnering with community member Gina Tarullo, the Daily Iowan, and in the storytelling for the web site.