U students get involved in local neighborhood groups

One student is helping the Southeast Como neighborhood board get a memorial for the students killed in last fall’s house fire.

by Eric Swanson

Whether the issue is Dinkytown riots, historic designation of greek houses or over-occupancy sweeps, students and permanent residents living near the University do not always see eye to eye.

To help communication between the two groups and express student concerns, the Minnesota Student Association and the greek community are getting involved with local neighborhood groups.

This step allows the parties to work together on some issues – including better lighting for sororities and a memorial for the students who died in last fall’s house fire near campus.

Southeast Como

The Southeast Como Improvement Association has gone as far as changing its bylaws to allow students to be a permanent fixture on its board. It has also been involved in working with student issues in past months, MSA Housing and Facilities Chairman Tom Zearley said.

“Through involvement, we have tried to curb the negative stereotypes of students,” Zearley said.

Sam Ero-Phillips, whom MSA helped get appointed to the neighborhood association’s board, acts as a liaison for both groups to strive toward mutual goals.

“Recently, we have been working on the memorial for the students that died in the fire,” he said.

Ero-Phillips and the Southeast Como board have been pushing for the memorial, which would be in Van Cleve Park and include a tree, large rock and plaque to commemorate the victims.

But the board has run into some trouble with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which does not typically allow a rock as a memorial in a city park, Ero-Phillips said.

Two weeks ago, Ero-Phillips addressed the park board. After explaining that more than 70 student organizations support the resolution for the memorial, the park board sounded somewhat interested in working with them, he said.

Before Ero-Phillips addressed the park board, it was not planning to allow the rock to be part of the memorial, MSA President Eric Dyer said.

“They are really strict about that, but Sam came to speak and they tabled the issue until a later time,” Dyer said.

“Sam’s really stepped up to the plate for this thing,” said Southeast Como neighborhood coordinator Greg Simbeck. “It’s been wonderful. He’s been a real strong asset.”

The group plans to plant a river birch tree with three trunks as a symbol of the three victims, Simbeck said.

Ero-Phillips said the group plans to go ahead with the memorial’s tree portion, regardless of the rock and plaque situation.

“As far as it is now, we are going to plant the tree and place a ribbon instead of the rock and plaque,” he said.

On April 7, the park board will decide if it will allow the plaque and rock, Simbeck said.

The ceremony for the memorial will be at 11 a.m. on April 22 in Van Cleve Park, said Kendre Turonie, the University’s student and community relations coordinator.


Following Southeast Como’s path, the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association is considering a change to its bylaws to make student membership easier, former Interfraternity President John Kokkinen said.

“We worked with Marcy-Holmes to update (its bylaws) and change them to make them more user-friendly,” said Kokkinen, who completed work on the bylaw change on behalf of the greek community approximately two months ago.

The vote on the change will take place in July at one of the association’s meetings.

Kokkinen said he would like to avoid a caste-type system in local neighborhoods, where permanent residents hold more power than students and part-time residents.

“We had to start getting involved with the local governments to accomplish our goals,” he said. “We have made it easier for others to get involved.”

University senior Charles Carlson holds one of two positions open to the student community on the association’s board.

He said he wanted to get involved because he intends to go into city planning after graduation.

“I kind of initiated my involvement with the group,” Carlson said. “I said I’ll do it if nobody else is doing it. It’s a good way to be involved in neighborhood decisions.”

Recently, Carlson has been a great asset in pushing for improved lighting around many sorority houses in the neighborhood, said Melissa Bean, of the neighborhood association.

MSA is also working with the Prospect Park neighborhood and neighborhoods surrounding the St. Paul campus to improve student involvement, Zearley said.