Two Communities Connected by Location but Divided by Spirits

By Neidy Gutierrez, Class of 2020

Saint Peter’s University and McGinley Square are two communities intertwined with one another, but according to some people, somehow divided.

For years, the university has attracted new people into the area helping create business. Locals seem to love the idea that the university has been part of the evolution of McGinley Square.

“It’s a privilege, it’s something that is very good for the area. Many new people that come here after a certain time… it’s a good influence within our community,” said Charly Barber, an employee at the United Barber Shop on Montgomery Street, next to Clearport.

The barber shop has been part of McGinley Square for a little over a year but has only been open for business for four months. They have received a warm welcome and have tried to familiarize themselves with the community and establish good relations with other businesses.

Another business that is fairly new to the area is El Cocotero on Bergen Avenue. Luis Quintero, owner of the restaurant,  has been living in McGinley Square for four years. One of the reasons he came to McGinley Square was because he thought Saint Peter’s University was a nice asset to the community.

Luis Quintero, owner of El Cocotero.

“You know, I am the number one fan of Saint Peter’s University,” said Quintero jokingly in Spanish. “One of the reasons why I moved here was because I went to the campus and I was like wow such pretty blocks and I was like yes I like it here.”

Quintero, like many of the other business owners, is part of the gentrification and evolution of McGinley Square. Wanting to invest in a community that was changing, Quintero decided to open up El Cocotero almost two years ago.

“The area is changing but we’ve done the change because we want the neighborhood to change, to progress and we are doing that together as a community,” said Quintero.

However, as welcoming and optimistic as the locals are, members of the Saint Peter’s community don’t seem to all share that same excitement.

We conducted a small survey asking people around campus what their knowledge on McGinley Square was, many had little to no knowledge of the area. Some were familiar with several restaurants and bars in the area such as McGinley Square Pub. Others didn’t know that Saint Peter’s University was part of McGinley Square.

SPU Knowledge on McGinley Square

The chart shows students responses when asked where would they place themselves on a scale of zero to five based on their knowledge of McGinley Square. Zero meaning they had no knowledge and five being they were well familiar with the history and area of McGinley Square.

“I don’t really explore it that much just because I am a commuter and when we are here we are always doing work and stuff. But when we do explore, it’s places we already know like our friends already go there so it’s not like we are like aye let’s check out this new restaurant,” said Ambika Ram, a junior at Saint Peter’s University.

Although busy schedules for commuter may stop them from exploring their surroundings, resident students seem to want to get away from campus and explore somewhere else. Originally from Passaic, student Marlene Mendes dorms at the university but feels that there isn’t much to do in McGinley Square.

“When I have free time, I tend to go to other places more like I would rather go to the movies at Newport or like the city,” said Mendes.

However, the problem with students not finding the motivation to go and interact in McGinley Square seems to come from “local” students. International students are more eager to go outside of campus and explore their surroundings.

Ripunjay Singh, an international student from India feels that McGinley Square is the perfect place to eat and hang out with friends without having to strain too far from the university.

“I mean there are a lot of pizza places, Burger King, and there is a good Indian restaurant that I go to often,” said Singh.

Although Singh enjoys his time at McGinley Square, he finds that the abundance of homeless people he sees, sometimes makes him not want to go out around campus. He believes that if the city can control the issue of homeless people, more people would be willing to go towards McGinley Square.

Sophomore and basketball player Cameron Underwood came to Saint Peter’s University last year and although he enjoys interacting with the locals at the barber shop, Underwood sees a division within both communities.

“Saint Peter’s is very small and so is McGinley Square so it’s kind of weird they don’t feel connected at all,” said Underwood.

But how can the Saint Peter’s community and McGinley Square become connected? How can Saint Peter’s members open their minds and doors to McGinley residents?

Daria Peace, Creative Arts Coordinator at the Leadership and Engagement office has worked with partnerships between the Jersey City art scene and Argus Eyes. They have had collaborations with the art house and other local theater groups.

Although the school can’t open their doors to all SPU events, the school and community can work towards partnerships. Saint Peter’s can make more of an initiative to make collaborations and McGinley Square residents can reach out to the university.

“I do think partnerships in the community are important. I’d like to see us do more of that. I think it adds more value to the experience for our students to build those connections for them in the community,” said Peace.

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