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Changes await Trustees

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, October 13, 2005

Following a summer of sweeping developments in the relationship between South Bend residents and Notre Dame students, student government leaders will zero in on community relations in their fall report to the Board of Trustees (BOT) today.

Armed with an 11-page document titled “The Stranger Next Door: An Examination of the Relationship Between Notre Dame Students and the South Bend Community,” student body president Dave Baron and a team of four student leaders will present the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees with an in-depth analysis of Notre Dame students’ current relationship with South Bend residents and how it must be improved.

The report is two-fold. The first section, which Baron, vice president Lizzi Shappell and chief executive assistant Liz Kozlow will present, describes the current attitudes of Notre Dame students toward their South Bend neighbors and vice versa.

The second section, presented by representatives from VOICE – the student advisory group for the Center for Social Concerns – will describe how community service can be a catalyst for change and improvement.

“This is an issue that we feel hasn’t been given much consideration in the past by student government,” Baron said. “We’re not talking about the relations at the level of the administration and city officials, but at the raw, unpolished level of students and residents, the tensions are high and the relationship is not good.”

Students returned to Notre Dame to find that the city had passed an ordinance meant to curb off-campus student partying in their absence. The new amendment only worsened the already fragile relationship between Notre Dame students and area residents, Baron said.

“We feel [the ordinance] will do more to drive students away from residents, rather than stop raucous partying,” Baron said. “Even with the additional part that encourages eviction after the notice to abate, it will only cause more resentment.”

However, this summer also saw positive changes for Notre Dame community relations also emphasized in the report. Baron’s work to create a partnership with South Bend Public Transportation Corporation (Transpo) resulted in free routes citywide for students wishing to go off-campus. Measures like these are a step in the right direction, Baron said.

The team of student government’s top leaders will also share with the BOT the results of “shocking” interviews conducted with students, local business owners and residents in the past few months.

“We were dismayed by some of the results. They contained a level of elitism on which Notre Dame would not pride itself. There were very disparaging and classless comments that are not indicative of what we’re shooting for at Notre Dame.”

The rather negative portrait that these findings paint will be balanced by the second part of the presentation, which will highlight the positive effects of community service in the greater South Bend community. Kate Distler and Peter Kralovec of VOICE will present this section.

“We will provide a tangible way that it is being improved today,” Distler said. “The CSC is a channel right now for positive interaction between the community. If we want to look at remedying this larger problem with perceptions back and forth, we need to look at how it is being done well right now.”

The BOT will not act immediately on the issue. Instead, student government and VOICE hope to raise the board’s awareness on the situation.

“We want to make sure they are aware that students are concerned with this issue and that they then start dialogue about it,” Shappell said.

This year’s report – the first of three BOT presentations scheduled for the school year – bears striking resemblances to last fall’s report, given by former student body president and vice president Adam Istvan and Karla Bell and then-chief executive assistant Baron. Last fall’s presentation faced criticism from the Board, but the suggestions Board members provided proved very valuable, according to Baron.

“[Last year,] the BOT responded to us with legitimate concerns,” Baron said. “We grew with it and built something from it. Their support and feedback and how it would work was useful. One of the trustees said, ‘Why don’t you look to the city?’ and we did, and it worked out.”

But while Istvan’s administration focused chiefly on off-campus safety, Baron, Shappell and Kozlow have sought a broader approach.

“This is an issue Dave [Baron] and I planned to focus on through our platform and campaigning,” Shappell said. “Dave spent two summers here, and I grew up here. Last year [the focus] was safety, but we wanted to address the overall issue of the situation in general.”

Going into what arguably will be a major milestone for the Baron administration, the presenters were confident and optimistic.

“We need to stay positive, to affirm that Notre Dame, while called by the world on one hand, is also called by the community,” VOICE representative Peter Kralovec said. “There are reasons to be discouraged, but there are great reasons to hope, and this report should call attention to where we are failing but also where we are striving.”