Breaking down issues at The Knickerbocker

GVL / Courtesy - Experience GR

GVL / Courtesy – Experience GR

Arpan Lobo

The Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) at Grand Valley State University prides itself on being able to provide opportunities for students to become civically engaged within their communities. Civic engagement, by its definition, involves being conscious of local policies and governance.

One of the opportunities the CSLC is providing is The Knickerbocker Town Hall Series. The Knickerbocker is a West Michigan brewery with locations in both Holland and Grand Rapids. The series of town halls is a GVSU co-sponsored initiative focused on local issues taking place on the west side of Grand Rapids.

Liz Collver, the assistant director of student life for civic engagement, said the series came to be through a Grand Rapids community member.

“It’s kind of a roundabout thing,” she said. “We (the CSLC) host an event on the west side (of Grand Rapids) every September that’s kind of a welcome for the students that live on the west side. We call it The Grand Neighbor Orientation. We plan it in conjunction with a number of community members. Those community members introduced me to a staff member at The Knickerbocker who donated some prizes to the event and (who) was just really interested in the fact that we were on the west side and getting students more educated about the west side.

“More broadly, we talked to him about the programs that the CSLC does throughout the year, and they were just really interesting to him. So he probably emailed me a week or two later and said, ‘Hey, I have this idea at The Knickerbocker to do this town hall series on issues.'”

The issues cover topics ranging from art in Grand Rapids to public safety and police relations. Creating dialogue focused on public issues directly reflects the work of the CSLC as well.

The first town hall of 2018 will take place on Monday, Jan. 29, at The Knickerbocker at 6:30 p.m., and it will be focused on tax code. The panel format usually includes GVSU faculty members combined with local experts.

Collver believes the series gives GVSU students a chance to become knowledgeable of what the west side of Grand Rapids—an area with rapidly changing demographics—has to offer.

“(Attending) would help a student have a better sense of what is relevant in Grand Rapids, specifically the west side where Pew Campus is located,” she said. Collver said by attending and participating in the events, students even have the chance to learn about the opportunities presented to them through their GVSU enrollment.

“Some of them, I think you would learn a lot of new things, and then others I think you would learn a lot more about just the west side or the history and how it connects,” she said.

The town halls occur monthly. While January’s event is focused on tax code, future panels will be speaking on topics such as religion and art. February’s event is titled “State of the Arts,” while April’s topic is “Religion in 21st-Century Grand Rapids.”

Collver encourages students to attend the series, as the events do not require participation. Those who wish to attend and merely observe the discussions are welcome to do so. The events are also open to the public.

“It’s pretty casual,” she said. “It’s pretty low-risk for anyone that attends because if you’re not the person that wants to put your hand up and talk, you can just listen. It’s a good way to meet citizens in Grand Rapids. A lot students live down there and go to class down there, too. It just a good way to meet more people.”

For more information on the event, visit