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Campuses, community seek better relationship

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, February 12, 2009

Improving relationships between Notre Dame students and South Bend residents and concerns with off-campus housing were two issues discussed Wednesday at the Community Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC) meeting, held at the County-City Building in South Bend.

Student and faculty representatives from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross met with South Bend Police Department (SBPD) officers and leaders from the community for the third time this year to talk about community and student related issues.

Council chairman Al Kirsits said one issue of concern between community members and students are parties and alcohol-related matters. But overall, the number of parties and incidents involving drinking has been down this year, he said.

Kirsits said the best way to handle alcohol-related issues is continued education.

The coalition would like to set up a booth on alcohol awareness at a spring event on campus and look into educating students by having them drive golf carts while wearing D.U.I goggles. The goggles distort the wearer’s vision as if they were intoxicated.

The Coalition also discussed zoning regulations that state where students can and cannot live off-campus.

Council attorney Kathy Cekanski-Farrand said there have been two cases this year where students have had to find another residence mid-year because they were living in a house illegally.

This typically doesn’t happen, but she is “afraid it’s leading towards [becoming] the norm,” she said.

Common Council member Ann Puzzello said single-family neighborhoods such as Harter Heights, are not meant for student housing.

“Any student rentals in that neighborhood that involve more than two unrelated students are illegal, to be perfectly honest,” Puzzello said.

There are always exceptions, which is why this problem is hard to enforce. For example, a resident in a single-family area is able to rent out his or her house to one student, but is not allowed to rent it out to two unrelated students, Puzzello said.

New laws specifying zoning regulations might help, Kirsits said.

“What we have now is very weak and I think we need to get some stronger base there so we can pursue this,” he said.

He also suggested informing students’ parents about which areas are legal for their children to live in.

Another problem addressed at the meeting was how to improve relationships between students who live off campus and their neighbors.

“Four doors down, I have some college kids living there … and it’s been a disaster,” said Kirsits, who clarified that by disaster, he meant that he had very little relations with them. “It has been difficult to get to know those guys and I’ve tried reaching out,” Kirsits said.

Student body president Bob Reish also saw the lack of relationship between off-campus students and community members.

“There’s still a feeling from students of disconnect from students and neighbors. And I think we still need to work on that,” Reish said.

For example, there were some block parties held by community members, which few students attended, and block parties held by students, which few community members attended, he said.

To improve such problems, Reish recommended an event that would push students and community members together in a way that would force them to communicate.

He suggested having a community service day where students and community members would do service together.

This led to a more general discussion about the relationship between South Bend residents and the University.

Marguerite Taylor, a resident of the North East neighborhood, said many South Bend residents feel detached from University life.

“[My father] lived in the same house more than 60 years within walking distance of the campus and he’d never been on … And I don’t think he is unusual,” Taylor said.

Puzzello expressed interest in getting a tour of campus, or coming to campus for an event.

“Just once, [I’d like for community members to] come in your area and enjoy something,” Puzzello said.

Reish said there are events on campus that invite community members to participate. He pointed out the Keenan Hall Great Pumpkin event around Halloween.

“Tours of campus might be a great start” in making community members feel welcome on campus, he said.

But Reish also pushed for CCAC to take action.

“I think this year has been more … updates rather than action,” he said.

He said he thinks CCAC is a body that can unite the community and the school, and hopes the council will focus on “community building, as opposed to being reactive.”

In an effort to open campus up to community members, the next meeting will be held at Notre Dame. It will be held at the end of March, although no date is finalized.