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Students may form coalition for town relations

John Tierney | Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In its first meeting of the year, the Council of Representatives (COR), an advisory group to student body president Liz Brown, concentrated its efforts on improving relations between University students and the South Bend community.

Brown updated COR members on her latest initiatives to combat the city’s proposed ordinance that would require students who live off campus to file a permit with the city 10 days in advance to host parties where more than 25 people could be drinking alcohol.

She announced the likely creation of a community relations coalition that would bring together leaders from the student body, the city’s Common Council, the University faculty, Notre Dame Security/Police and the South Bend Police Department (SBPD).

Various city leaders proposed the creation of the coalition at a Friday meeting to “pursue different avenues to address the problems of disorderly students,” Brown said.

She will meet again with city leaders Thursday to discuss the committee’s membership. The coalition, Brown said, may not be restricted to Notre Dame students.

“Obviously, I would like to see Saint Mary’s, IUSB and Holy Cross students represented as well,” she said.

It is unknown which parties – students, Common Council, SBPD or residents – will form and lead the proposed committee.

Brown did ask if “we should single out Notre Dame as being the leader on this,” but the COR members did not come to a conclusion regarding a Notre Dame-led student delegation.

Student body vice president Maris Braun said students “need someone who conducts themselves professionally” to sit on the committee, regardless of the school he or she attends.

Junior class president Bob Reish proposed a group that would include students from all four institutions and elect different representatives to attend coalition meetings and present student perspectives.

COR members decided that Reish’s plan would not provide for enough consistency in the student representation, but Brown did acknowledge that “it is a good idea to have a separate body between the universities,” leaving the door open for a four-school student council.

While the coalition would be new to the Notre Dame and South Bend communities, similar organizations have been established at Michigan State University and the University of Rhode Island. Braun said that Rhode Island saw complaints against off-campus students decline by 39 percent in the coalition’s first year, which she called “pretty impressive.”

Though the coalition is not regarded as a final solution to community relations’ problems, it is viewed as an important start.

“We need to bring community members and students together on a more consistent basis, rather than just at 2 o’clock in the morning, when somebody’s caught up in problems,” Brown said.

Braun hopes that the coalition will not become just another venue for discussion, but a starting place for action.

“We talk a lot. We would prefer to move to more concrete programs,” she said.

The council also addressed issues of off-campus student safety in the wake of the Aug. 21 shootings at Club 23 on Notre Dame Avenue, where two students were shot and wounded.

Despite the incident, many COR members agreed students should not expect preferential treatment from the SBPD.

“Student safety isn’t a huge priority for the South Bend Police, no more so than for a normal person,” Student Union Board (SUB) manager Phil Ross said.

Encounters with crime are “a way of life for many South Bend residents,” Brown said.

However, student government director of communications Will Kearney believes there is a “massive misappropriation of judicial and police forces” in the city.

“Having nine or 10 cops in a yard for one girl [who had received an alcohol citation] doesn’t seem valid at all,” he said.

To help students stay safe, Braun suggested University-run educational programs for students who move off campus, teaching them about cautionary measures they can take to avoid break-ins.

COR plans on further discussing community relations issues next week along with football ticket lottery procedures.