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Student government briefs trustees

Karen Langley | Friday, October 19, 2007

Members of the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees listened Thursday as the student government administration described the controversy surrounding the South Bend Common Council’s party permit ordinance.

Board members and staff applauded after student body president Liz Brown explained the role student government played in resolving the tension through dialogue with city administrators and Council members.

“Thank God for these women,” one trustee said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a guy.”

Student involvement in student government and off-campus issues soared during the discussions about the ordinance, Brown said.

“There were unprecedented levels of student interest in student government and community relations,” she said.

Brown described the goals of Council members who supported the ordinance, which, in its first publicized form, would have required many student tenants to file a permit with the city 10 days before hosting a party where at least 25 guests would have access to alcohol. Council members wanted to resolve tensions between raucous student residents and neighbors and to address problems they saw with underage drinking, she said.

Board members laughed as Brown described the college party scene upon which she said the U.S. Department of Justice bases the Student Party Riots guide.

“These are the type of parties where you literally have cars tipped over and set on fire,” Brown said. “We did not feel this was a problem we had at Notre Dame.”

Brown described how she approached Timothy Rouse and Al “Buddy” Kirsits, the Common Council members who sponsored the ordinance, to discuss alternate paths to solving problems of rowdy student gatherings off campus. Though she had conversations with Rouse, Kirsits and South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke, Brown said, the “party that turned the tide” was the weekend of the home football game against Georgia Tech, when student behavior was at a peak.

Faced with a Common Council that wanted to see real results, “we pushed the student body to validate our claims,” Brown said.

The Council ultimately voted on Sept. 24, passing an ordinance that contains all the language of the party permit legislation but refrains from enacting the rules. The ordinance does not specify exactly what would trigger the additional vote needed to require the filing of permits.

One trustee asked Brown, a political science and peace studies major, whether she was able to use any skills learned in the classroom during the negotiations.

Brown said she had, adding that she had at one point called the professor of her conflict resolution class to say she was involved in a simulation from his class.

Student body vice president Maris Braun described one proposal student government made that is included in the finalized ordinance. The ordinance called for the establishment of a Community/Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC), which will include students and administrators from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross and Indiana University South Bend, as well as Common Council members, the mayor, landlords and local residents. It will be responsible for helping the Common Council identify neighborhood concerns related to local colleges, and it will propose solutions.

The CCAC was modeled after a similar group established by the city of East Lansing, Mich., and Michigan State University, which Braun called a “benchmark of a peer institution that dealt with college-town issues in an extremely proactive manner.”

When a trustee asked how the student government can hope to sustain interest in community relations as the student population changes, Braun responded that the presence of the student body president on the CCAC would help to ease the transition from year to year.

Chief executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil told Board members about other student government initiatives in the area of community relations, such as the work of the Senate Community Relations Committee, the bus tour of South Bend held during freshman orientation weekend and the Campus Legal Aid Clinic held to instruct students moving off campus on leasing obligations and good neighbor protocol. Student government is also in the process of approaching each academic department to ask them to offer a community-based class through which students would spend time in the community as well as the classroom.

“The more students are able to get into the community, the more they’ll be interested in the community,” Plamoottil said.