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University Communities approach diversity topic.

Imagine having hundreds, even thousands of college-age students descend upon your city or town each fall. For many of them, it is their first time away from home, a time to experiment: drinking, parties, making noise at all hours - frequently in residential neighborhoods. The institution which brings them all (and many of their cars) to your town is tax exempt. You must still deliver services to this university. Sound like a trying situation?

For 120 members of the University Communities Caucus (UCC) it is a way of life and constant challenge to develop effective solutions.

The UCC-sponsored workshop at this year's Congressional City Conference focused on ways to make university-community relations a more positive and rewarding relationship for all involved: the students, the city officials, the university, and the neighborhood residents.

"Nurturing Diversity in University Community Relations" discussed specific examples of ways in which cities are attempting to address the issues inherent in a university's presence in the community.

The workshop was moderated by UCC Chair Mary Anne McCollum, mayor of Columbia, Mo. Presentations were made by the chief of police of Newark, Del., William Hogan; NLC's Liaison for Diversity in Governance and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger; and Cambridge, Mass. City Councilmember Alice Wolf. Two students, Mike Ryan and Mark Tucker from the University Missouri at Kansas City, presented a student perspective on diversity in university-community relations.

Hogan stressed the importance of a continuing dialogue with students. In Newark, "the city and police department, in speaking with the students, try to send a consistent message. The first one is that 'we want to work with you. We want to know what your problems and concerns are. You are part of this community. We want to work with you.'"

In instances when police have to talk with students about enforcement action or working on community problems, Hogan said that they try to be consistently clear that "we are not anti-university. We are not anti-student. We are anti-bad behavior."

The city of Newark formed a Town and Gown Committee in 1987. This committee brings together city officials, students, landlords and residents to discuss common problems and potential solutions.

In addition, the city and university recently reached an agreement on an off-campus judicial system: Once a student is convicted of a criminal offence off-campus (such as a noise violation or under-age consumption of alcohol), it is reported to the dean of students and affects the student's status at the university. Hogan said this system is "having a positive impact for us."

When Alice Wolf was mayor of Cambridge during the past two years, she appointed a Task Force Committee on University-Community Relationships. This committee was comprised of neighborhood representatives, city staff members and representatives from the various universities. It met regularly over a period of months. Their goal was to come out with a series of recommendations to the mayor and city council on ways in which there could be greater cooperation between the city, universities, and particularly the neighborhoods.

Wolf described some of the recommendations the committee made. "Two areas which the Task Force particularly emphasized - the areas where it saw the greatest hope for making immediate progress in cooperation between universities and the city - were in the areas of utilizing the universities as a resource for education in the community. That is, both for school children and for later education.

The second area was in improving communications between the neighborhood, city and universities." These recommendations are being implemented and a heterogeneous Advisory Committee is being set up to promote ongoing regular communications between the groups represented on the Task Force.

Ruth Messinger encouraged UCC members to continue examining and addressing diversity issues in their communities as it is "directly related to the ongoing changes in our cities and towns regardless of what accounts for their diversity."

She was appointed by NLC President Glenda Hood to be the Liaison for Diversity in Governance. Messinger was the chair of the 1991 Advisory Council when it published its first Futures Report on Diversity and Governance. Her new role as the Liaison she said, is to "keep working on issues of diversity as they help or hinder our member cities and towns."

The UCC Board of Directors also met during the CCC to develop a UCC work program that will continue to enhance the Caucus' efforts to expand the networking and information sharing among officials from university communities.

The UCC will be conducting a similar program of educational workshops and roundtable discussions at the NLC Congress of Cities in New Orleans later this year. City officials interested in being added to the UCC mailing list should contact Shelley van der Merwe at (202) 626-3030.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:van der Merwe, Shelly; Shapiro, Marc
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 23, 1992
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