Housing summit stresses dialogue

JP Leider

Despite long-held tension caused, in part, by thousands of students living in rental housing surrounding the Minneapolis campus, students, neighbors and community members seem to agree on one thing: Communication among all parties has been subpar.

To address issues of community and public safety, the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, in conjunction with the Office of Student Affairs, had a rental housing summit Monday. The event brought together members of the community, police and the University, in addition to a few students, to discuss issues facing students and neighbors alike.

The major recommendation that came out of the session was to improve lines of communication among the University, students and the community.

Communication is one of the major problems in the neighborhoods, said GAPSA President Karen Buhr.

“Each of the independent groups is working on the same issues but they’re working on it independently,” she said. “That’s one of the things that needs to change – we need to communicate better and get together and discuss the issues.”

Recommendations that came out of the summit will be made public online within the week, she said.

Monday’s summit is the first in a two-part series; the second summit, scheduled for April 10, will address mainly student rental issues.

Breakout sessions

As part of the summit, attendees split into two groups dealing with crime prevention and building a stronger community.

Officials and community members attending the crime “breakout session” expressed concern about increases in crime.

One of the likely reasons students are targets, said Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University, is that incoming students don’t know how to behave in an urban environment.

“We see 9,000 new students every year – they are like lambs to the slaughter,” Johnson told summit attendees.

He said many students need to become informed of how to be safe and appropriately behave in an urban environment.

Organizations like MSA and GAPSA might be the best means to keep students informed because members often remain in the organization for more than one year, he said.

The session dealing with building community focused on the University’s responsibility to the community.

Bill Dane, a community activist and University Student Legal Service attorney, said student government calling for the summit was a good step in building community.

The summit, Dane said, is the first time the student government has called community members to the University to voice concerns.

“It’s a connection, and there isn’t any reason it can’t be continued,” he said.

While summit attendees established no formal plan, recommendations will be considered again at the April 10 summit, which is to be open to the public.