Community Engagement Perspectives from Indianapolis
by Ciana Sorrentino
The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic became imminent to our country during my first semester of graduate school.
While I did not have much MPA education at the time, my professor offered our class a research position involving state/local government action and individual response. Through this position I was entrusted with the primary knowledge necessary to capture and record these governmental actions by coding Governor’s executive orders. In a way, the COVID-19 pandemic led me to realize my true capabilities as a woman in graduate school; I lost my first full-time job at my sorority's headquarters in April, and since the pandemic, I was granted a position closer to my true goal of being a lifelong learner and catalyst for change.
A very striking memory of the very first online policy analysis class that spurred from the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic was some very ominous words from my professor; we are no longer living in a democracy. The face-to-face interactions, such as town hall meetings, on which many governmental actions depended were not possible. 60-70% of states were giving blanket authority to directors of agencies/non-elected officials. State budgets were no longer discretionary as governors have more authority during times of public crisis. A dilemma for shouldering the responsibility of public health ensued ; some states believed that the pandemic was a local municipal responsibility, while some states believed that the federal government should have more responsibility than what their actions portrayed.
These were elements of the public sector I had never even considered as possible to change, but the fluidity of political analysis continued to enchant me; as a result, the epidemic of homelessness prevailed as one of the most urgent issues facing communities during the pandemic. I lived down the street from one of the largest homeless communities in Indianapolis and rode my bike past the communities nearly daily, sometimes stopping to have a conversation. With a lack of community resources, these members of society were seemingly forgotten in the rush of cultural individualism that pervades our country. At this time in mid-March and early April of 2020, it was every individual for themselves – and quickly, I noticed the homeless population growing in size, occupying more length on the side of the White River than I had ever seen in my four years of living in downtown Indianapolis.
Continual immersion in the depths of this community motivated me to continue pursuing MPA education to the utmost extent. Never has my perspective shifted so abruptly, which I believe is a result of exposure to many different ways of life by virtue of living in a highly diverse urban environment throughout the onslaught of a global pandemic. Typically, the adverse effects experienced by global disaster are exacerbated in urban communities, and Indianapolis is no different. In addition, I have the privilege of graduate education, a resource so often overlooked by community decision-makers. I have been granted opportunities to make a difference in the way communities encounter public health crises. Above all, I have immense amounts of support from my institution to not only be educated about these global situations but to be granted the tools to make a difference.