Coalition meeting debates housing flier, tone of discussion

By Stephen Greenwell
Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2005

0/19/05 - Debate about a flier handed out by the University of Rhode Island Commuter Housing Office and the tone of the meeting itself were the main issues at the Narragansett-URI Coalition meeting Tuesday night.

About 40 Narragansett residents and 10 students attended the meeting.

Dave Anderson, a Narragansett resident, voiced his objections to a flier produced by the URI Commuter Housing Office that was distributed in Narragansett.

"They give URI students living down the line instructions what to do," he said, and read off the first line of the flier, which said students should tell neighbors if they plan on having a party.

"That's what the first thing is, if you're going to have a party, what you're supposed to do," he said. "Now this came out of the URI commuter housing office, I think it's deplorable, and it's basically telling the residents to mind your own business."

Leslie Williams, an assistant director of Student Life, said she created the handout and was open to new suggestions. Anderson replied to her and said, "The suggestion would be that it should have never have gone out in the first place."

Narragansett Police Chief J. David Smith said he welcomed Anderson's presence at the meeting, even if it was to complain about the flier.

"If this is what made you mad, then okay, it got you here," Smith said. "I think the idea [behind the flier] is sound, the intention was to encourage the students and the residents to have an open dialogue, and your point is well taken and I hope you have a hand in creating the next version."

Anderson asked the students at the meeting if they received the flier. Nobody raised their hand. Anderson said, "That shows how involved the students are."

Smith countered Anderson's assessment of the situation.

"What they tried to do was historically identify the neighborhoods that had problems and reports and try to provide the most effective distribution," Smith said of the distribution. "Where can we get the message out and try to get the most bang for the buck?"

Carol Stuart, of the Eastward Look Neighborhood Association, agreed that the distribution of the fliers had to be improved.

"This year I did not know they were being handed out," she said. "There are 300 houses alone in Eastward Look, and I think the process needs to be looked at."

Fran Cohen, the URI Dean of Students, said criticism allows the coalition to work better.

"As has been mentioned before, this coalition has been running for several years now, and it is an evolutionary process," Cohen said. "We are adapting with the times, and we welcome feedback."

Anderson said he was frustrated with the nature of renting in Narragansett.

"This year I have three girls next to me who are wonderful," he said. "Last year I had hell on wheels. It's almost like you have to change your lifestyle every year."

Alex Brincko, a Narragansett resident, questioned the efforts to increase student participation.

"You said you hope to increase the student participation by 50 percent, but you don't say what that level started at," he said.

Smith said he did not know the exact number of students currently involved in the coalition, saying there were about six students when he arrived around 6 p.m.

When pressed by Brincko for details, Smith questioned what purpose he was trying to serve.

"This is a situation where we are at the beginning of a process, and I think you're sending the wrong message," Smith said. "I'm personally offended, and enough is enough Alex, and this is exactly the type of support I don't want. I would appreciate it if the commentary was more of a positive tone."

Smith's remarks drew applause from the crowd.

Paula Santos, a coordinator for the coalition, said some students had problems attending the meeting.

"There is normally a contingent of Greek students here but they couldn't make it tonight because there is a program they were already committed to," Santos said. "I believe we told the steering committee we expected around 10 to 20 new students."

Organizers of the coalition said they hoped for more student participation in future meetings.

Smith said, "The thing I feel most strongly about is increased student participation."

As part of this increased student participation, Smith asked Lauren Fink, a junior at URI, gave the communications subcommittee report.

Fink said the subcommittee talked about how to get the word out to URI students that the coalition might not be what they expect.

"I know if I hadn't been part of this I wouldn't be part of the coalition," Fink said. "We talked about misconceptions students have about the community and the police. We talked about getting word out to the Cigar and to update the Web site to make it more accessible."

Fink said it was important to give a face to residents.

"We talked about humanizing members of the coalition so that students don't think they'll be met with pitchforks at the door," she said. "We want students to know it is an open and welcome community."

Smith agreed with Fink, citing the need to humanize both students and residents.

"We talked about profiles and putting some of the profiles of the committee members up," he said. "It would be fun to take an actual household [of students] and do a story on that, and to put a different face on the broad brush we paint students with."

Smith said a possible example could be profiling students shoveling a snowy walkway for an elderly resident.

Another project of the Narragansett Police is updating their Web site. "We are updating the Narragansett Police Department site with frequently asked questions that students might be too timid about asking," Smith said.

Part of the effort would also involve synergy. Smith said, "We want to be able to open the line of communication, and we also thought if we could do that and provide a hyperlink to the coalition Web site, that would enable everyone to access the good stuff out there that's being done."

Thomas Dougan, the vice president of URI Student Affairs, said the recent changes to the University Manual would help enforcement issues in Narragansett.

"One of the many goals for this academic year was to apply the student conduct code to external outlets of the university," he said.

Dougan added, "This isn't a thing that is going to solve all the problems, but it will better enable us at the university to address the problems that some of you have experienced in Narragansett with students who violate university regulations."

Dougan said they did expect more protests like the one Monday afternoon. "The protests are going to be ongoing," he said.

A Narragansett man spoke in support of Cohen's efforts to change the University Manual.

"I think if anyone has, she has made a genuine effort to make this thing work," he said. "I've found that the coalition is something real with a mission they are actually committed to. I get the Good Five Cent Cigar, and I've disagreed to write to some of the people who have made outlandish comments."