Como neighborhood association sees increase in student involvement

Three more students were elected to the Southeast Como Improvement Association’s 13-member board on Nov. 14.

Kelly Busche

The Southeast Como Improvement Association saw a spike in students elected to its board earlier this month.

Three University of Minnesota students were elected to SECIA’s 13-member board on Nov. 14, with many saying they were influenced to get involved at the local level due to the current political climate. The newly elected members hope to use their positions to lessen the divide between student renters and permanent residents.

“Many of us felt it was really important to get more student involvement on the neighborhood organization board, hence the effort to recruit more students,” said Karl Smith, president of the SECIA board.

The three new members join two other students on SECIA’s board. One of the five students is continuing his term on the board, while another was appointed directly by the Minnesota Student Association.

Permanent residents normally composed most of the board, Smith said, even though renters make up most of the Southeast Como neighborhood.

In recent years, the board had two student members at most.

“SECIA has definitely had students on the board before but not in as meaningful of a capacity as this,” Cody Olson, executive director of SECIA, said in an email.

Will Roberts, a newly elected student board member, said he joined because the outcome of the 2016 elections sparked his interest in politics.

“If a bunch of people try to help others, then at least we’re doing something,” Roberts.

Abbey Burtis, another new student board member, said she saw neighborhood involvement as the most attainable way to impact change at a local level.

Roberts said SECIA is more accessible to students than other neighborhood organizations because its board seats have fewer residency requirements.

Other neighborhood organizations require residency terms. The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association requires those running for a board position to have been a resident for at least six months.

Burtis said she hopes to impact the community in her new role by being a “liaison” between the students and families living in Southeast Como.

Older residents are frustrated with the students because Southeast Como is treated as an “extension of Dinkytown,” she said.

Cody Hoerning, also a new student board member, said permanent residents notice the uptick in alcohol-related incidents more than students. Students and permanent residents share many housing concerns, he said.

Hoerning said he and other elected students have discussed community building to lessen the disparity.

“I think a lot of issues that come up in the neighborhood can be resolved by talking to and knowing your neighbors,” he said. 

Hoernig said more block parties will help build the community, like the annual Como Cookout where he was first welcomed by SECIA members in September.

He said he also wants to build partnerships between landlords and the community to improve the quality and affordability of housing.

Roberts said he hasn’t yet formulated specific plans on how to utilize his position, but added he plans to encourage student residents to get more involved in the community.

“I think that’s a very valuable thing, to have an involved population,” he said.