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Baron wants better ND-city relations

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, October 27, 2005

Less than a week after six Notre Dame students discovered they are facing eviction proceedings from Turtle Creek Apartments, student body president Dave Baron discussed ways to ease tensions between students and the South Bend community in his second State of the Student Union address, delivered Wednesday to the Student Senate.

Baron, who recently gave a presentation on community relations to the University’s Board of Trustees along with student body vice president Lizzi Shappell and chief executive assistant Liz Kozlow, discussed the evictions as emblematic of larger problems plaguing the relationship between Notre Dame and the South Bend community.

“This entire situation regarding the ordinance has increased tensions, but not created them,” Baron said of South Bend’s recently amended disorderly house ordinance, whose new provisions allowed for the eviction notices. “The relation between Notre Dame students and South Bend residents was already frayed. I am disappointed that the city resorted to this measure, but we must be honest. Much of the cause for poor community relations comes from our own state of the Student Union.”

Noting that many students have an attitude toward South Bend “that borders on elitism and arrogance,” Baron recalled the especially condescending opinions of two students surveyed in research for the Board of Trustees presentation.

One student, Baron said, described South Bend residents as “uneducated, low-aspiring, low-achieving, but generally nice” people.

When asked how South Bend could improve its relationship with Notre Dame students, another student responded, “South Bend is a blue-collar industrial town. I don’t know if it can meet my, or anyone else’s, standards.”

Baron said this negative outlook could not, and would not, color student government’s reaction to the evictions.

“There is a normal knee-jerk reaction to take the ordinance and let it further perpetuate an angry negative resentment toward South Bend,” Baron said. “We could do that, but if poor community relations and inadequate communication are what caused this ordinance to be passed in the first place, do you think even worse relations will bring about a better situation for students?”

Baron said student government would continue to stand by its position that the ordinance unfairly targets students and is inconsistent with other applications of a law – a fight to which Baron has devoted himself since the South Bend Common Council passed the new amendment July 25.

“We will compile information regarding the application of a no-warning policy and coordinate legal defense,” Baron said. “We intend to bring our arguments to the city of South Bend and demonstrate that this measure is punitive beyond its original intention. We’ll be working with the University to ensure that members of our Notre Dame family are not left homeless because of a single offense.”

Baron spoke Wednesday with Associate Vice President of Residence Life Bill Kirk, who said the University would offer on-campus housing to evicted students or assist them in finding other off-campus housing, Baron said.

He also discussed initiatives undertaken by student government’s Community Relations committee, headed by Nick Guzman. New to the Senate this year, the committee is in the process of creating a South Bend Opportunities Guide listing jobs, internships and career training for students, Baron said.

Baron said the committee is also working on a Campus Community Publicity Program to bridge Notre Dame and South Bend and examine ways to educate incoming freshmen on the community through Freshman Orientation.

He urged senators to help instigate changes in attitude toward the community.

“And I’m not talking about through the passage of a resolution, but through your everyday interactions back in your halls,” Baron said. “Look into one of the available internships in South Bend. Take Transpo to the grocery store. Go on a date downtown.”

Baron started his address by complementing both the University Affairs committee, led by Matt Walsh, and the Gender Relations committee, led by Ali Wishon.

Walsh’s committee was instrumental in implementing the University’s new agreement with the Transpo bus service, Baron said.

Since Wishon’s committee revamped the “From Football to Finals” Freshman Orientation program for incoming students, Baron said numbers of sexual assault reports have increased.

“While that may sound troubling, the fact of the matter is that these assaults have already been taking place [without being reported],” Baron said.