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Students to confer with community

Sarah Mervosh | Friday, March 27, 2009

Student leaders will meet with leaders from the South Bend community today at the third annual Community Summit, where “honest dialogue” will help the incoming Grant Schmidt-Cynthia Weber administration forge relationships and continue communication with the community, student government Community Relations chair Gus Gari said.

The meeting – which will be held at Notre Dame Downtown, the location of the Office of Community Relations for the University – has four talking points, Gari said.

He said one of the main topics of discussion will be how to improve communication between the two groups. They also will talk about the development that is happening around campus, such as the Eddy Street Commons and off-campus student housing. Safety and security issues, along with how to smoothly integrate off-campus students into the community, will also be discussed, Gari said.

“We both have different goals a lot but … we do realize that those goals can merge together and that’s what we are looking for out of the Summit,” Gari said.

In order to get a variety of perspectives, student government invited 40 people from a variety of positions, including representatives from South Bend’s Common Council, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, Notre Dame Security Police and student government.

Gari said students who are not affiliated with student government have also been invited to bring a fresh perspective.

Students involved in student government “deal with these issues all the time,” Gari said. By inviting students who aren’t familiar with the issues, he said he hopes to get a fresh student perspective.

Jackie Rucker, director of the University’s Office of Community Relations, said the Summit will help build relationships between students and community leaders, which will make solving problems easier.

“I think the more that you talk to people and you build relations, the easier it is to resolve issues,” Rucker said. “You find out what you have in common, you find out what your common goals are and some of the misconceptions that you had kind of melt away.”

In past meetings, Rucker said, “students have been very open and reaching out to people in the community, and the community leaders likewise. … We’ve been able to get some things going to help for each group to understand the other.”

Mikki Dobski, director of communications and special projects for the Mayor’s Office, said she is “enthusiastic” about attending the Summit and appreciates the commitment that student government has made to improving relations with the community.

She said the city of South Bend works with the University in a number of ways, and the collaborations have been positive for the city government.

“If there are people in the community who have a negative attitude, we want to help change that,” Dobski said.

She said she hopes the meeting will bring “good dialogue so that we can identify common goals and work together.”

Gari said student government would also like to work with city officials to find out what is feasible for the new administration and how long it will take to accomplish its ideas.

Gari said he would like to get “a lot of real and honest answers as far as what can be done.”

“Coming out of this meeting, it’s important for city officials to know the student perspective on the issues that will be discussed. It’s important for students to know the perspective of South Bend city officials and to really come up with tangible solutions that we both agree with,” Gari said.

“Communication is key,” Dobski said.

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