First Friday changes help create strong bonds

Over the past few months, some student organizations and faculty groups have begun making extra efforts to build stronger relationships between the Allegheny and Meadville communities.

Most students at Allegheny know that on the first Friday of each month, they have the opportunity to head to Park Avenue Cinema and see a movie for free, along with a bag of super buttery popcorn and a small soda if they show their student I.D.

This year the promotion, sponsored by Allegheny College’s Gator Activities Programming, will be renamed “Film Fridays” in an attempt to increase the number of Fridays in a semester that students can take advantage of the opportunity.

“This year, instead of cutting down the possible Fridays that everyone can go to Park Ave for free, we decided to change it up,” said GAP president Laura Craft ’18.

GAP, with the supervision of GAP Community Relations Chair Griffin Sullivan ’19, will be offering the free film program on Fridays that are better matched to the college’s already full schedule so students don’t have to choose between watching a volleyball game, attending another major college event or seeing a movie at the downtown theater.

“Certain businesses in Meadville have been struggling,” Craft said, explaining how their program aids in providing crucial business to the theater.

“A big part of community relations [for GAP] is making sure that the Meadville community is represented. We look to maintain this relationship with Park Ave to help them and their business in Meadville.”

The GAP executive board plans to increase and improve their current marketing for the event in order to attract more students and continue bringing the campus into the Meadville community.

Yet, student organizations are not the only ones who are working to bridge the gap between the Allegheny and the Meadville communities. Faculty and staff of color and LGBTQ employees at Allegheny also spend time in Meadville building relationships and making connections, traditionally on the first Friday of each month.

Focusing on building a system of support within the larger Allegheny community, First Fridays started several years ago as a gathering of Allegheny staff and faculty members from Colleagues of Color, one of the three employee affinity groups available for Allegheny employees. Sometime after, another employee affinity group, Pride Alliance, joined in on the social gatherings, as well. These staff and faculty of color along with LGBTQ identifying members of the Allegheny community began attending Julian’s Tavern on Chestnut Street to build a community for themselves on which they could rely for support, understanding, and mutual sharing of local resources while working within the Allegheny community.

Ande Diaz, the former associate provost and contact person for Colleagues of Color, began this venture several years ago. Last year, wanting to create an even more diverse community, Diaz also began asking people of color and LGBTQ identifying members from the Meadville Medical Center to join their sessions as well, since the center employs such a large number of Meadville’s residents.

After Diaz’s departure from Allegheny, Director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice Center justin adkins, along with Director of Human Resources Jennifer Mangus, assumed the role of organizers for the gatherings after having been long-time attendees themselves.

“What if we tried expanding it to the Meadville community?” adkins said. “If the point is to network and build community…well, we all live here.”

This year, the conveners of these monthly community-building and networking gatherings decided to open their meetings to non-Allegheny people from marginalized populations who live and work in Meadville.

An announcement on My Allegheny characterizes First Friday as “a gathering for friends and colleagues from systemically marginalized populations in Meadville, including but not limited to: people of color, LGBTQ folks, Jewish and Muslim folks, people who were born outside of the United States, and people from native and indigenous populations.”

The event, according to adkins, is intended as a support system and networking opportunity.

Darnell Epps, associate director of the IDEAS Center, regularly attends the meetings and has been since he started working at Allegheny in 2012.

“I knew coming in that I would be part of an underrepresented community,” Epps said. “And I knew that I wanted that support.”

Epps said that opening the gatherings to Meadville residents “just makes sense.”

He hopes  the events can be a place for creating intentional connections and offering support to their neighbors.

“First Fridays is just a jumping off point for creating those meaningful relationships,” Epps said. “I hope that we can continue to build community outside of those gatherings.”

The first gathering took place on Sept. 8 at Julian’s Tavern from 5-7 p.m.. Future dates can be found on the event’s Facebook page, shared by the IDEAS Center.

Ways for students to offer their support to the Allegheny community were suggested  by adkins.

“Support your staff and faculty members in general,” adkins said.  “We all are here because we are passionate about students and we are passionate about education. But we all also live in this community.”