New Community Relations Director Has Strong Ties to City and
by Fernando Quintero
Like many alums, the new director of community relations, Irene Hegarty, came to Berkeley in 1966 and never left.
"I fell in love with the campus and the community," she said. "I consider the two my home."
As the person in charge of town-gown relations, Hegarty seems well suited for the position. She has been actively involved in both campus and community issues for nearly three decades, beginning with her volunteer service as a Berkeley student at Stiles Hall, the 111-year-old community service agency.
"I was tutoring students in West Oakland. Then I graduated from school and started having kids of my own, which really makes you stop and think about things like school, safety and other community issues."
Hegarty's subsequent town-gown involvements included serving on a joint university-city transit agency policy advisory board, and setting up a task force to look at child care on campus and throughout the city.
She was a board member of the Berkeley League of Women Voters, and has served on the Berkeley Unified School District board since 1988.
"When you get involved in the community, you really get a sense of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the city and the university. A lot of issues--safe and affordable housing, recreational facilities, parking--cross boundaries and affect both the campus and the city," said Hegarty.
Hegarty, who received a bachelor's degree from Berkeley in English, has worked mostly as a freelance editor on a number of legal and public policy publications.
Hegarty said she believes her new career move will be challenging. However, she believes her job has been made easier with the significant improvement of town-gown relations over the years.
"The chancellor has a strong desire to work with the city, and community groups are more willing to talk to the university. There are still some out there who see the university as a huge monolithic entity with a set agenda, and anyone who dares to stand up against it is helpless," she said.
"In truth, university planning is an evolving process. Our challenge is to involve the city more in that process."
Hegarty said she will concentrate on stepping up efforts to reach out to local residents. Plans include compiling a comprehensive list of community leaders, publishing a directory of campus resources available to the public and getting more campus representatives out into the community.
Overall, Hegarty said she will try to broaden the focus of her office's efforts, which in the past have concentrated on issues related to the Southside area.
"We have to stop putting out fires and start working on building understanding and trust throughout the community," she said.