Student liaison connects Marcy-Holmes residents

by Neil Munshi

With winter weather creeping in, Sara Schwan has just completed her last round of door-knocking in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

Schwan was hired as a student liaison to the neighborhood in late July by the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

“The neighborhood really recognized the need to improve relations between students and the other people who live in this neighborhood,” said Elissa Cortell, the revitalization program’s coordinator.

As a liaison, Schwan said, she acts in a diplomatic capacity, mediating neighbor disputes and addressing questions from students and long-time residents. She fields concerns about graffiti, parking disputes, obscene behavior and noisy parties, she said.

Face-to-face contact with neighborhood residents is meant to add a more human approach to addressing residents’ concerns, Schwan said.

Kendre Turonie, coordinator for student and community relations for the Office of Student Affairs, said she thought Schwan’s position was similar to hers, but effective in a different way. Turonie is a liaison between the University and surrounding communities.

“Students relate to her much better, they hear the message in Ö a really effective way,” Turonie said.

Turonie added that the position helps to smooth over some of the tension that has marked student-resident relations in

the past.

Area landlord Joe Stokes said he advocated creating Schwan’s position using Neighborhood Revitalization Program money and wants more funding for the job. He said Schwan was hired because of her optimism and amiable nature.

Stokes said Schwan has been “very creative and thinking outside the box just trying to improve communication in the neighborhood.

“It’s really a very pioneering position,” he said. “She sort of had to figure it out herself – I’m not aware of many other places with similar situations.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Schwan said, her door-knocking has resulted in approximately 20 informal meetings with residents.

Schwan also said she is doing promotion for the Restorative Justice Program, which the University, Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods have joined. She said she is excited about the program, which allows nonviolent offenders to resolve their offenses by doing community service in the neighborhood where they committed the offense.

When Schwan networks with residents who have been reported for a noisy party, she said, she encourages them to have smarter, responsible gatherings – indoors and with appropriate light and noise levels.

“I don’t discourage gatherings, but I stress how to be smart and act within a reasonable manner respectful to their neighbors,” Schwan said.

If she has to repeatedly visit a house about noise complaints, she said, she always explains to the residents repeat complaints mean more attention from the police.

Because many students in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood are fresh from the residence halls, she said, she feels it’s important she integrate students into the neighborhood. But at the same time, she said, she tries to make permanent residents feel it is their neighborhood too.

Schwan said she doesn’t only hear complaints and address student concerns. Last week, Schwan said, she met with a group of elderly women from the neighborhood to exchange ideas.

Reconciling students and long-time residents, she said, is just a matter of finding common ground. She said many students are respectful and many older residents want to reach out to them.

Schwan said that she has noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of incidents reported in the area since the beginning of the school year.

Though she said she has not seen the data that could determine the impact of her service, she said she is optimistic about her position and realistic about its effect.

This winter, she said, the neighborhood association wants students in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood to make sure they move their vehicles during snow emergencies and make an effort to shovel walkways.

Schwan, a fourth-year political science student, will graduate in December but said she will keep her position through the end of August 2005.