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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 24, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 40
JHU solicits progress report from Homewood neighbors

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Each year, hundreds of Johns Hopkins students move into apartments, houses and residence halls located in the neighborhoods surrounding the Homewood campus. Most will be upstanding citizens, but, as in any university community, there are some who will be — intentionally or unintentionally — inconsiderate of their neighbors.

With that in mind, the university has focused significant effort in the past two years to have students polish up their good-neighbor skills and to find ways to create more harmonious student-resident relations.

Johns Hopkins conducted a survey earlier this year to view the progress of its efforts and assess the current state of student-community relations. Nearly 250 residents living within a one-mile radius of Homewood were randomly contacted by Homewood Student Affairs staff and asked a series of questions regarding their relationship with JHU students.

"Specifically, we were eager to know if our perception of improvement matches that of community members," said Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education and chair of the Neighborhood Relations Task Force (formed in 2004 and including JHU staff and students and neighborhood residents). "We also wanted to know if there were specific problems that we haven't been addressing, or communication gaps."

The survey, designed by researchers in the Institute for Policy Studies and conducted between Feb. 22 and March 29, found that while most residents characterized student-community relations as good to excellent, a quarter still viewed relations as fair to bad. A quarter of the respondents reported that they had experienced a student-related problem within the past year. Mirroring previous concerns, they cited nighttime noise (assumed to come from parties) and poor property maintenance as the most severe student-related problems.

The university has already begun to address such issues. The Neighborhood Relations Task Force issued a report last year that called for a revision of the Johns Hopkins Student Conduct Code, which now features stronger penalties for infractions, 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 and the development of a series of programs and events that foster more positive interaction between Johns Hopkins students and community members.

The university also created the position of community liaison and compliance officer, whose job is to proactively monitor neighborhoods where groups of Johns Hopkins students reside and to intervene when problem behavior occurs. That position, which reports to the dean of student life, has been filled since August 2005 by Carrie Bennett, formerly a campus security officer.

When asked if they were aware of any actions JHU has taken to reduce student-related problems, 135 survey respondents said they didn't know of any, 106 said they were aware of actions, and 11 said they felt that no action had been taken. A majority of respondents said that student-community relations have remained the same over the past year, while 49 out of 244 said that relations have improved. Only six said they felt that relations have deteriorated.

Burger said that survey results show that student-community relations are generally healthy but that the university needs to continue to be vigilant about the most common sources of problems: noise and property upkeep. Communications efforts need to be enhanced, too, Burger said, both about concerns and about opportunities for community members to take advantage of Johns Hopkins' programs and educational, cultural and recreational resources.

In terms of the positive developments, Burger applauded the efforts of Dorothy Sheppard, associate dean of students; Salem Reiner, director of community affairs; and Bennett, the compliance officer, whose actions have been "critical in JHU's ability to make progress."

"So, too, have been the good will and citizenship of the majority of our students and a spirit of cooperation of most of our neighbors," she said. As an example, Burger pointed to the Homewood Student Association, a group that was recently formed by off-campus students to represent their perspectives and to be more proactive with the community. HSA held a Community Action Day on April 15 in which 160 students and a group of residents combined for a successful cleanup effort in five neighboring communities.

Burger said that while there is room for optimism, the university fully realizes that much more needs to be done on the community relations front.

"When we began in earnest to address these matters, I would have to say that some members of the community were giving us a failing grade due to some individual problems in their particular neighborhood. Overall, I would now say we are passing, but I won't be happy until we make dean's list," she said. "Community-university relations are always works in progress, particularly with regard to student issues, since we have a new group of students living in the community every year. We fully intend to keep ourselves 'on probation' even if we really think we are now in good standing."


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