Balancing freedom and responsibility

Our expectation is that students will use common sense, respect one another and their neighbors and act responsibly.

TBy Jerry Rinehart
Guest columnist

the number of students choosing to live near campus is increasing and this is good news for the University. It was only 15 years ago that most University students considered themselves commuters; today, less than a third consider themselves commuters. Not having to commute allows students to spend more time in academic and cocurricular activities that can significantly enhance the learning experience.

The increase in rental properties and decrease in owner-occupied housing, however, place new strains on our neighborhoods and threaten to substantially change these communities. The increase in crime and the problems with “party houses” reflect these changes.

As we have seen from recent articles and opinion pieces, student safety and behavior on campus and in our neighborhoods attracts a great deal of attention. Assaults on students have raised concerns. Both students and long-term residents in Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como and Prospect Park neighborhoods have demanded that more be done to control illegal, unruly and disruptive behavior on the weekends.

Operation NightCAP, also known as “party patrol,” puts extra uniformed and plainclothes Minneapolis police officers, University police officers, Minnesota State Patrol and Hennepin County officers on streets around campus during peak party hours. The increased law enforcement presence is designed to encourage people to make good choices about alcohol use and behavior. We want students to have fun, but to do so in a safe and responsible manner.

Our goal as a university is to help maintain our neighborhoods as vibrant, balanced communities for both permanent residents and student residents. We understand that some students bristle at the idea of police breaking up parties and issuing tickets for underage alcohol consumption or disorderly assembly. These patrols receive special funding because of the concern the city, the state and the University has for maintaining the livability of neighborhoods near the campus, and because of the concern we have for the safety and well-being of our students.

Large house parties not only attract students from high schools and other college campuses, but also attract people to the area who have more sinister motives. For these folks, alcohol-impaired students wandering in the dark represent opportunities – opportunities for robbery, assault and other crimes, which are more difficult to get away with in the sober light of day. Alcohol is all too often a factor in assaults on students. Alcohol impairs judgment so students might pay less attention to their surroundings or decide to walk home alone – actions that can make students targets for criminal opportunists.

We ask students to keep personal safety in mind as they go about their daily lives. Students can review safety tips at the UMPD Web site at http://www1.umn.edu/police/prevention.html.

Not everyone who becomes drug- or alcohol-impaired is going to end up in the hospital. Our research shows that the likelihood of injury, assault, or sexual violence is much higher for students who report binge drinking than for those who abstain or drink in moderation. As one of the Boynton Health Service posters says: Alcohol is the most common date-rape drug. Of course, for students under 21, there can be additional consequences related to having a criminal record. This isn’t rocket science – getting drunk and getting into trouble go hand-in-hand.

We are pleased that thousands of students are choosing to participate in Gophers After Dark and other fun, safe and healthy activities. And we want students living in our communities to be able to enjoy their freedom and privacy without having to worry about “getting busted.” Our expectation is that students will use common sense, respect one another and their neighbors, and act responsibly. We are sure that these expectations can be met while having fun and having lively social gatherings. It is simply a matter of maintaining some balance between the exercise of personal freedom and individual responsibility.

Jerry Rinehart is the University’s vice provost for student affairs. Please send comments to [email protected]