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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 12, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 2
Focusing on Students, Neighbors

University takes steps to improve off-campus relationships

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

While it's no revelation that Johns Hopkins wants its students to shine academically, a new report articulates how the university would like its students to polish up its good-neighbor skills as well.

In response to a growing number of concerns about the relations between the more than 2,000 Hopkins students living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Homewood campus and other community residents, a Task Force on Neighborhood Relations was established at the end of the last academic year. Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education, appointed and chaired the 15-member group that included various university administrators, students and community residents, who met on an aggressive schedule throughout the summer.

The task force reviewed the current state of student/community relations and found that the most common resident complaints are excessive noise late at night and the improper upkeep of some student-occupied housing. Community residents also expressed concerns about isolated occurrences of student rowdiness and vandalism, with alcohol consumption identified as the primary catalyst for disturbances and other issues.

In response to the findings, the task force's report, finalized in August and issued last week, includes 21 recommendations that aim to foster better communication between students and residents and to encourage students to display the "habits of good citizenship."

Burger said that in the course of its discussions, the task force agreed on the importance of cultivating better relations between Johns Hopkins students and community residents as a matter of mutual self-interest.

"Throughout the course of last year, there were growing concerns on the tenor of relations between our students and our neighbors in the community," Burger said. "These are serious matters. The health of the community around our campus is important for the health of the university, and vice versa. We need to be partners in all of this as our interests are intertwined."

The committee's recommendations, some of which have already been implemented, include the revision of the Johns Hopkins Student Conduct Code; new protocols for the reporting of noise violations; enhancement of education and outreach initiatives that promote proper behavior; the creation of a new fraternity alcohol policy, to be implemented by mid-October; and the development of a series of programs and events that foster more positive interaction between Johns Hopkins students and community members.

The interaction is already under way. President William R. Brody met with representatives of various community groups on Sept. 2 to inform them of steps the university is taking in regard to neighborhood relations and to solicit from them other ideas for enhancing relationships between students and community members. In addition, an inaugural Meet Your Neighbor gathering will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, in the Wyman Park Dell. Off-campus students and area residents have been invited to the event that is intended to serve as a fun icebreaker to kick off the fall term.

Notably, the report also called for the creation of a student-community liaison and compliance officer, whose job it will be to proactively monitor neighborhoods where groups of Johns Hopkins students reside and to intervene when problem behavior — excessive noise, destruction of property, etc. — occurs. Caroline "Carrie" Bennett, who for the past 12 years has worked in the university's Security Department, was selected for the post and began her work in the Office of the Dean of Student Life on Aug. 12.

Bennett's chief duties will be to patrol the community on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings — the predominant social nights for students. The compliance officer is empowered to issue citations and will report incidents to the dean of student life. Bennett will meet with student residents of houses that are the sources of multiple complaints to effect strategies to reduce nuisance behavior and also to develop programs and educational initiatives to enhance student-neighbor relations.

Bennett, who when not on patrol will hold regular office hours at Abel Wolman House, located at 3213 N. Charles St., said that it will be her responsibility to address issues before they escalate.

"The majority of our students residing in the community realize that they are not living in a dorm room and behave accordingly, but there is that small percentage [of students] who just don't get it," Bennett said. "[Students] have a right to have a social life, clearly, as they pay rent and are community members themselves. But on the other hand, they do not have the right to destroy their neighbor's property or be extremely loud and disruptive. So, I'll be out there trying to spot problems before they become an issue, respond to complaints from students or community members and take care of it all at the street level."

The report makes clear that Johns Hopkins students are not responsible for all the unacceptable behaviors exhibited in surrounding neighborhoods, and that some of the complaints are either not well-founded or are the result of the actions of a very limited few.

Teresa Bruno, who served on the task force as a student representative and has lived in Charles Village for a year, said that some community residents are too quick to blame students and are reluctant to treat them as equals. Bruno said she hoped that the public outreach and communication portions of the report could help dispel some of the negative perception of students and publicize the positive contributions of Johns Hopkins students in the community. For example, at any given time during the academic year, roughly 900 students are involved with a community-oriented volunteer project in Baltimore, with an estimated 375 students volunteering in the Homewood area.

"From my perspective as a student, this task force was greatly needed as the community is greatly divided between the neighbors and students," Bruno said. "I believe that the school needed to step in to try to close the gap in the community. I was very pleased with the efforts of all those who participated in the task force. I felt that many positive ideas were shared, and the school is doing its best to work toward a better community for everyone involved."

One recommendation in the report was to conduct a comprehensive survey to better understand the dimension of the student/community resident problem. This should be completed by November.

The report concluded that although the Office of the Dean of Student Life has strengthened education efforts significantly and has sanctioned students found to have violated standards of acceptable behavior off campus, some community residents remain cynical about the university's willingness to address these problems.

Burger said the task force's recommendations, in particular the strengthening of student sanctions, should be a clear message that Johns Hopkins appreciates area residents' concerns and does not condone the behavior of a limited few who unfairly compromise the reputation of constructive and responsible students, who constitute the overwhelming majority of Johns Hopkins students.

Specifically, the Johns Hopkins Student Conduct Code has been strengthened to cite specific examples of prohibited behavior and to make clearer the range of sanctions that will be imposed, especially for successive infractions, such as the distribution or sale of alcohol to individuals under the legal drinking age. Beginning this semester, students found in violation of noise or underage-drinking restrictions for the first time will receive at minimum a warning. A second violation will result in, at minimum, university probation, a fine and parental notification. A third violation will result in, at minimum, suspension from the university. As is the case with any violation of the Student Conduct Code, any egregious violation, even a first offense, can be punished with sanctions up to and including expulsion.

Dawna Cobb, a community resident who served on the task force, said that she hopes such measures limit the occurrences of irresponsible behavior, such as students not properly disposing of trash or keeping up their properties.

"I hope that the report's recommendations, if properly implemented, will change the culture at JHU such that students know when they move off campus they must fulfill certain responsibilities," Cobb said.

Burger said that other urban universities share many of the problems outlined in the report, as well as many of the frustrations of monitoring and sanctioning the irresponsible behavior of some students who interfere with the rights of community residents to enjoy a reasonable amount of peace and quiet. She said that the efforts to create additional housing for upperclassmen will help to address these problems, although the university expects that some students, especially graduate and professional students, will continue to make their homes in surrounding neighborhoods.

In addition to Burger, Boswell, Bruno and Cobb, the members of the task force were Thomas Calder, director of athletics and recreational sports; Michael Kelly-Sell, student; Ron Mullen, the recently retired director of Security, Parking and Transportation Services; Dennis O'Shea, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs; Salem Reiner, director of community affairs for Homewood; Jerry Schnydman, executive assistant to the president; Dorothy Sheppard, associate dean of student life; Edmund Skrodzki, executive director of Campus Safety and Security; Jennifer Snodgrass, student; John Spurrier, community representative; Gerard St. Ours, associate general counsel; and Robert Turning, coordinator of Greek life.

The full report can be found online at .


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