Students fight for neighborhood voice

Kevin McCahill

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association made a decision not to change neighborhood by-laws at the Oct. 18 meeting, which has a big effect on students’ ability to get involved.

On the agenda was a topic raised by English and philosophy sophomore Shuo Wang, who was hoping to amend neighborhood by-laws to allow more input from students, who make up approximately 75 percent of neighborhood residents.

He asked in writing that, among other things, the annual meeting in which board members are chosen be moved to October rather than July when the student population is sparse.

“We want students to have easy access to vote,” he said.

The amendment failed because of a lack of student attendance, he said, but the issues of students’ place in the neighborhood still exists.

Marc Mayer, a University alumnus, is working with students in Marcy-Holmes. He said students are being treated unjustly and that he hopes to get their voices heard.

“We are trying to amend tight by-laws to increase students in an organization that doesn’t want them there,” he said.

Students need to be considered residents to take part in neighborhood meetings, Wang said. Neighborhood officials ask for a driver’s license and residency verification to show the student lives in the neighborhood.

This can be difficult for many students, especially those in boarding, fraternity or sorority houses, who don’t have any utility bills addressed directly to them, he said.

“(MHNA) say(s) we are important and want us to be involved, but they do everything to prevent it,” said physics sophomore Kevin Klutzke.

But Melissa Bean, executive director of MHNA, disagreed with the idea that students can’t become members.

“Membership is free and for everyone, so there is no barrier,” she said.

After the lack of attendance at the Tuesday meeting, described as “glowingly bad” by Mayer, it is clear there is more work to be done to effect the change he is looking for.

Brian Biele, MHNA president, sees the lack of student involvement, but believes the neighborhood works to help students who have issues.

“You can’t force anyone to show up,” he said. “You can only offer them some direction.”

Biele said he has been a member of the neighborhood for 11 years and feels he never had his voice “stifled.”

He said there wasn’t a big difference in attendance between meetings held during the school year and those held during the summer.

“Changing the meeting schedule doesn’t seem to have helped,” he said.

Neighborhood officials argued there is a place for students in decision-making.

There is a student affairs committee with student participation, but Mayer described its power as “toothless,” and one that is often ignored by the neighborhood board.

Bean disagreed.

The committee worked with the city on the 15th Avenue lighting project, which was a student-raised topic, she said.

“We worked hard to get that going,” she said. “Sometimes issues students have or perceive aren’t the same as long-term residents. (The student affairs committee is) a perfect way to bring that to the front.”

Students aren’t the only ones concerned about neighborhood rules.

Jason Klohs owns property in the 1100 block of Eighth Street and said he has a strong interest in what goes on in Marcy-Holmes. But he isn’t a resident of the neighborhood, and therefore isn’t allowed to have a say in decision-making. Klohs cited past meetings when he asked to speak but was denied because he wasn’t a neighborhood member.

“I want to talk and solve issues, but they won’t let me be involved,” he said. “It is just frustrating. They don’t want a relationship with us, they want to alienate us and shove us around.”

Bean said the neighborhood association would like to see more involvement from students.

There is one board seat available and the student liaison position is still open, Bean said.

“We would welcome students to join committees and do the work,” she said. “But if the sole participation is to come once a year (such as with last week’s meeting) and raise a ruckus, that’s not very productive.”