Public drunkenness, fires, violence and last year’s Dinkytown riots. Those are some of the complaints made against student residents in a petition letter sent to University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks last Tuesday.
The letter, spearheaded by the Southeast Como Improvement Association’s (SECIA) Safety and Livability Committee, was signed by 91 residents mostly from Southeast Como, as well as Marcy Holmes and Prospect Park.
The letter says the negative impact of students is “making it increasingly difficult to build and maintain the community of stable residents … We see that the wider community, and even the student community, no longer chooses to live in Southeast Minneapolis.”
James De Sota, SECIA neighborhood coordinator, said there has been no official University response yet, but he hopes the letter will be received favorably by the president’s office. He’s also expecting a public statement from Bruininks denouncing the irresponsible behavior of students.
“It’s really a small minority of individuals who are causing our headaches,” De Sota said. “But most of the residents who signed it are taking action because they didn’t want the actions of a few to affect the perception of the University.”
The letter’s 91 signatories are University faculty, staff, alumni, graduate students or people otherwise affiliated with the University.
De Sota said the residents’ concerns began in 2009 after the Dinkytown riots. This concern was elevated when a fire started in a Southeast Como house last October.
“There was a general sense of disarray and that a lot of issues were exacerbated in 2009,” he said. Those issues have existed before, but last year’s “just had a different feel to it,” he said.
He also said students feel they can get away with their actions because of a perception that there are no consequences from the University and the police.
“Some weekends, hundreds of people have been hanging around the streets at 2 a.m., and no action was being taken by the police,” he said.
De Sota said he hopes the letter won’t fuel the perception among students that the neighborhoods are anti-student.
“There are people who are predisposed to [having that perception] who say, ‘These are student neighborhoods; why can’t we do what we want?’ This will probably stoke that fire,” he said. “But I think most of the University gets that a lot of people who aren’t students live here, too.”
Jan Morlock, director of community relations, said the concerns raised by the neighborhoods are shared by the University.
“The quality of life in the communities around our campus is absolutely essential to have a quality educational experience on our campus,” she said.
Morlock said the University has provided more than $100,000 in policing resources for southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods this year.
“This was a University contribution to help make a stronger police presence in the neighborhoods,” she said. “But even if we had a police officer on every corner, our success is going to have more to do with decisions made by individuals on what is responsible behavior.”
She said the University has been working with property owners to enforce the student conduct code off campus.
Gerardo Bonilla is a political science senior who lived on Como Avenue and 21st Street Southeast last fall. He said he thinks students need to be more responsible with their actions, especially along 15th Avenue, where there seems to be a lot of “chaos.”
“I want to respect people so that they can respect me,” he said. “If people are responsible enough to pay their bills, they should be responsible enough to respect their neighbors … I don’t want neighbors to call the police on me.”
Kendra Turonie, coordinator for Student Community Relations and director of the Student Neighborhood Liaison Program, said she supports the letter.
“I’m not surprised and I’m not offended. I encourage the neighborhoods to make their concerns and needs heard,” she said.
Turonie said she anticipates the letter will encourage Bruininks to be directly involved with the neighborhood and the liaison program. She also said the neighborhoods need more resources from the University to address the issues outlined in the letter.
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