Dr. Carrie Smith is an academic who isn’t content to only work in academia. She is looking for another way to serve the community: running for office.
Dr. Smith announced earlier this year that she is a candidate for Millersville Borough Council in 2019.
“I’ve lived here for 14 years now. I really like this community,” Smith says. “I like that there’s been a lot of continuity. And I think people enjoy raising the families here. That’s a really nice thing to see.”
In addition to being a professor of sociology, she has served as a Faculty Research Fellow at the Center for Public Scholarship and Social Change here at Millersville University since 2014.
Smith is also on the boards of the Edward Hand Medical Museum and Ambassadors for Hope.
In addition to teaching, she conducts community-based research and works with local non-profit organizations to help evaluate their programs’ effectiveness.
Among others, Smith has partnered with the Lancaster Safety Coalition, the Lancaster District Attorney’s Office, and Advoz. Despite all of these accomplishments, she realizes that she needed to do more. That’s why she decided to run for the council to be more involved with the community. She says her role at the university was part of that decision.
“I sort of feels like residents and students are pitted against each other,” Smith says.
“It’s the students who are loud and making noise and the residents who just want them to go away. But I am interested in looking for ways that we cannot just coexist with each other, but communicate with each other and collaborate with each other.”
Smith isn’t a traditional candidate running in a legislative branch. She is a social scientist who studies society, social relationships, and is interested in questions of culture. Here’s Smith take on why a social scientist should be in the running:
“Part of my interest in running for Borough Council was that it is time for our social scientists to ask these kinds of questions because the people that typically run for government positions are lawyers, people with a background in business and politics.
Nothing wrong with any of that. But I think social scientists ask different questions. Social scientists asked questions about how well or how badly organizations are running.
The social scientists ask questions about the impact of large scale social structure on people’s lives. We put things into place and we try to measure how is this affecting people’s lives? I believe that’s what we need in government.”
Smith adds that this is tension between the campus and borough communities is not unique to Millersville. She says she wants to find a way for these two parts of the community to collaborate with one another to take advantage of the benefits of living in a college town.
“The university is a very central part of the world and it takes up a large part of taxes and property,” Smith says. “A lot of university towns face problems. And one way to think about it is, if the university disappeared and you built housing, you will actually increase the tax revenue base. People will pay property taxes, county and borough taxes. Another way to think about it is we have a university and it’s a great resource.
As Smith notes, Millersville is a college town and a suburban community. According to the United States Bureau, the total population for Millersville Borough is 8,388 and out of 8,388, 7,720 are students, while 2,452 are families and 1,072 are over the age of 65.
These groups are all squished in a total area of 2.0 square miles. It’s safe to say that in an area that has more college students than families, their worlds clash. Smith tries to address these issues that Millersville students and residents face in their everyday lives and speaks about solutions to alleviate the issues.
“I think there are different ways to do that,” Smith says. “And part of it is continually being frustrated that I get news about what’s happening at the university, but borough residents may not get it. And I think there’s got to be a better way to share that information.”
Smith also notes that this lack of communication flows in the opposite direction as well.
She points to the parking situation on East Frederick Street. She says she wondered about how changes in that situation would be communicated to students. She stresses the importance of communication between the university and borough communities.
“We both are invested in how well this borough turns out, and it seems foolish to not work with each other,’ She adds.
With elections coming up in less than 11 days away, most students seem to pay more attention to the presidential candidates and state representatives but are unaware of borough and township candidates that also affect them in a huge way. According to the Millersville Borough website, “The borough council passes ordinances, resolutions, and other policies that impact the daily lives of each resident and visitor of the community.”
As a demographic analysis shows, the biggest group in the borough community of Millersville are students. If they show up on Election Day, they can make a big difference. However, Smith notes that this creates controversy for some.
“There are some people who will go, ‘our students shouldn’t vote in municipal; they’re here for four years’” she says. “I do think students should get involved. They are a large part of the borough. And it’s not just a local borough level. They’re voting for state judges, county commissioners, and Supreme Court judges. They definitely need to come out and vote even if students go, ‘I don’t plan to live here.’”
In addition to voting for elected officials, Smith says students should pay attention to a crime victim’s rights initiative that is on the ballot this year.
She also says that just because students only live in Millersville for four years doesn’t mean they should not have a say in what happens in the community.
“A lot of the ordinances and decisions that we make are because of students who live here, who rent here, right? So, when we’re making ordinances about noise, let’s be honest, who are we really making those ordinances with in mind? Students,” Smith says. “And we would like students to be more involved.”
For Smith, this idea about community involvement goes well beyond voting. She describes fostering relationships that are mutually beneficial for the campus and the borough.
“I’ve been thinking about things like, how there are a lot of elderly people in some parts of this borough who are no longer able to clear up their leaves and there are many college students I know who would love to go out and help,” Smith says. “We can make those connections.”
She imagines scenarios where students connect with older residents who are missing their family and need some company or are unable to walk their dogs.
Students can step up and have a positive presence in their lives. Students could also benefit from connecting with members of the community.
“I also know that there are a lot of college students here who would love to have some kind of mentor,” Smith says. “We can do that we can set people up. What are you interested in? Oh, there’s somebody who lives in the borough who works in this field.”
Smith says she hears students refer to Millersville as a “suitcase campus.” They go to classes but don’t spend their time here. She says she wants to foster community connections and that students should be a part of that.
That means changing students’ attitudes about participation and the attitudes of people who say students shouldn’t vote in borough elections.
“I’m invested in the students from a professional standpoint, having a sense of belonging, and I want people to feel like Millersville was a cool place to hang out on the weekend and I want to participate in things,” Smith says.
“For that to happen, I think we have to work together so yeah, I think students have a role in it. I think we would be foolish to say no, the students shouldn’t.”
Smith ends with this for students, “I don’t want my students to walk out of the classroom depressed feeling like wow, we’ve got all this difficult information about how things seem to be structured in a way that we can’t control.
I want my students to walk out thinking about now that you know how structures work, what can we do to change things?
Change, may be slow. Change may take a lot of work, but the change can happen.”