LETTER: URI efforts making progress

We are grateful for recent coverage of the advances being made by URI’s Common Ground and the Narragansett-URI Coalition in reducing URI student misconduct off-campus (“URI Anti-Drinking Initiative Sees Results,” May 18). We are also extremely sympathetic to the frustrations expressed by Narragansett residents who remain negatively affected by the noise and other disturbances caused by some URI students (“Residents Say Students Rowdier than URI Admits,” June 15). We all agree that a great deal more work remains to be done.

Solving “town-gown” problems requires a multi-faceted and collaborative approach. Common Ground has worked with several partners in an attempt to address problematic student behavior off campus, including the General Assembly, the Narragansett-URI Coalition, South Kingstown Community Partnership for Prevention, the Narragansett and South Kingstown police departments, the Narragansett Youth Task Force, the URI Greek community, Narragansett and South Kingstown tavern and package store owners and URI students.

Here are the major initiatives that URI and our partners have put in place:

In 2005 and 2006, working with the Narragansett Youth Task Force, we provided more than $34,000 to the Narragansett Police Department to increase DUI and neighborhood patrols, especially in problematic areas such as Green Lane.

We supported the town of Narragansett in the adoption of tougher policies for houses that create neighborhood disturbances. Only five (6 percent) of the 83 houses cited as a nuisance since September 2005 received a second citation.

We worked closely with the General Assembly to draft Responsible Beverage Service legislation and to develop regulations for the certification of server training programs. Studies show that implementation of mandatory RBS has been associated with more than 20-percent reductions in alcohol-related fatalities, in which Rhode Island leads the nation.

We have partnered with Narragansett and South Kingstown tavern and package store owners to form Cooperating Tavern and Cooperating Package Store Agreements to support their ongoing commitment to responsible beverage service.

In the spring of 2006, Common Ground partnered with Rhody Rides, a student-based alternative transportation program. During a 10-week pilot period, student drivers provided safe rides to 235 URI students.

After receiving necessary funding through a voter referendum, for the first time in more than 20 years, URI will open 800 new residence hall beds this coming academic year. There are plans for an additional 600 beds in the next three years.

In response to concerns raised by Narragansett residents, and after three years of concerted effort, URI’s new jurisdiction policy went into effect Jan. 1, meaning that URI students can now be held more accountable for their off-campus behavior. There is a consistent message to students: There is no tolerance for alcohol policy violations or bad behavior either on or off campus.

“RhodeMap to Safety,” Common Ground’s communication campaign, has three major purposes: 1) to inform students about existing URI alcohol policies and state alcohol laws; 2) to make students aware of the many steps being taken to reduce off-campus student misconduct; and 3) to let residents of Narragansett know about these ongoing initiatives and the progress being made.

Contrary to the charges made by some town residents, there has been no attempt by URI’s Common Ground to use the communication campaign to take “statistics and twist them to our advantage” or to “paint a picture that is much rosier than reality.” Rather, we have gauged our progress by relying on independent records kept by the Narragansett Police. These data document, for example, a 19-percent reduction in recorded police incidents from the fall of 2004 to the fall of 2005. That’s real progress, but we have a long way to go.

Our data and that of the Narragansett Police underscore Carol Stuart’s point that “it’s not as if there hasn’t been progress” and that “the town has been trying and the university has been trying.” Narragansett resident Dianne Chudlenski stated that dialogue between students and residents should be (and often is) an effective way of resolving problems. We agree. And as we continue our efforts - working with the residents and town officials of Narragansett, the Narragansett-URI Coalition, URI students - our overriding goal remains to build a community of mutual respect.

Mark Wood

Associate professor

University of Rhode Island

Principal investigator,

Common Ground

Via e-mail

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