Two years after Temple’s University Community and Student Off-Campus Issues and Concerns Task Force convened under former President Ann Weaver Hart’s administration, intiatives in all five recommendation areas have been implemented or are on their way to being implemented.
Hart, who left Temple in 2012, charged the task force with improving the student body’s relationship with local residents after increasing complaints from residents and a bill introduced into City Council that would potentially ban students from living outside a designated area around campus.
The task force ended in 2012 after it submitted a report to Hart that included 22 initiatives in five recommended areas members felt needed the most attention in order to improve relationships with local residents: revise the student conduct process, influence student culture – including expanding the university’s Good Neighbor Policy – enhance infrastructure, create a culture of shared ownership and enhance communications, educating students of off-campus behavior expectations.
After taking over at the beginning of this year, President Neil Theobald worked with the task force’s recommendations by creating the Good Neighbor Initiative as part of the recommendation to expand the existing Good Neighbor Policy.
Theobald did not respond to requests for comment.
“Some of the initiatives, such as expediting the student conduct referral process and creating tangible programs under the Good Neighbor Initiative, are underway,” said Dean of Students Stephanie Ives, chair of the task force.
The second recommendation by the task force, which argues for influencing student culture, was the basis for the Good Neighbor Initiative, building off of the policy originally created by Senior Associate Dean of Students Andrea Caporale Seiss and Kate Schaeffer, program coordinator for alcohol and other drugs, interpersonal violence and mental health with the Wellness Resource Center. The initiative seeks to raise student awareness about their responsibilities as community members.
The task force’s other recommendations are still in the works, with strategies such as creating a student-community mediation program awaiting funding review. The task force’s proposed annual budget of $551,020 is being used to help fulfill these recommendations.
“Funding for some of the task force recommendations has been contributed through individual departmental budgets,” Ives said. “For example, the vice president for Student Affairs contributed funds to develop marketing materials for the Good Neighbor Initiative, such as the positive community messaging banners that hang in the Student Center.”
Though some initiatives are still under discussion, initiatives such as requiring students to update their addresses in TUportal twice a year and hiring a public affairs specialist to oversee a plan that would prompt more positive interactions between students and the community have been approved. Jazmyn Burton was promoted to fill this position in 2012 after being a staff writer for the Temple Times.
Complaints from residents about trash, partying, noise and vandalism are all issues the Good Neighbor Initiative addresses.
“We were finding that there was a split between students,” Seiss said. “There were the students who feel, ‘Hey, we’re college students and should have a right to act like college students and to party, and we’re only here for a couple of years so it doesn’t matter.’ But then you have the student who knows it does matter – ‘We may only be here for a few years, but this is somebody else’s permanent home,’” Seiss said.
Meetings are being held once a month every third Wednesday to discuss the Good Neighbor Initiative with the dean of students.
Activities to come out of the Good Neighbor Initiative include the Owl Stand Up program created by Residential Life to educate students in residence halls about the expectations from their neighbors, and the Adopt-a-Block program, where organizations sign up to take care of a designated block.
“It’s good for neighbors to see that we have a lot of students who really care, that they’re not out there every Friday and Saturday night partying,” Eileen Bradley, captain of special services for Campus Safety Services, said. “It’s only a small percentage of students who are the issue.”
Since the start of the school year, CSS has been working in conjunction with Philadelphia and state police to crack down on student drinking. In that time, more than 300 citations for alcohol-related offenses have been delivered on and around Main Campus.
“The reason the police are involved so much is, unfortunately, you’ll still have that small percentage that doesn’t get the message,” Bradley said. “And one of the things we’ve found is, unfortunately, we have to do enforcement.”
Ray Betzner, assistant vice president for University Communications, estimated there are between 13,000 and 14,000 residential students, with about half living on off-campus blocks.
“That’s something that has happened just in the last several years, and these issues have grown during that period of time,” Betzner said.
“For the most part, Temple students have been very responsible and respectful,” said Jeff Gossin, a resident on Jefferson Street. “They have a good time, some students are better at taking out the trash and whatnot than others, but I think for the most part the neighborhood is clean and enjoyable.”
Christine Williams, a resident who has lived on 16th Street for more than 20 years, also said she has not had problems with the increasing student population.
“I party with them and everything, they’re good people,” she said.
As part of his inaugural address, Theobald stressed the importance of Temple serving as “Philadelphia’s public university.” However, the president’s speech was silent on how the university will move forward with the recommendations made to ease the university’s relationship with its surrounding community.
“We don’t want this to be a program that goes for five years and then disappears,” Seiss said. “We want this to be a piece of Temple Made identity, and we were encouraged when students told us that that’s where it needed to go. And that’s why keeping students involved is such a huge piece.”
Sarai Flores can be reached at email@example.com.