The CommUniversity Assistant’s Program shapes the way students think about off-campus living

Not long ago, a University of Oregon student wanted to throw a party at his residence off campus.

The student — we’ll call him Jerry — played in a band and Jerry’s band wanted to play at his party. Jerry knew that this could potentially be an issue for some of his neighbors, so he decided to be proactive.

With the help of his bandmates, Jerry posted flyers around his neighborhood about the party. Also in an effort to mitigate any potential aggravation, he went door-to-door to be sure that his closest neighbors were aware of his festive plans. Jerry wanted to create a safe gathering with no interruptions, while still remaining conscious of the natural autonomy of the neighborhood itself.

Unfortunately, one of Jerry’s neighbors didn’t think that playing loud, raucous music late into the evening was fly and requested that Jerry cease and desist any and all party plans.

Jerry was determined. He phoned his neighbor and requested a sit-down where they could have a conversation regarding concerns and apprehensions.

Together Jerry and his neighbor came to a respectful arrangement that allowed for the party to take place and the band to play under the pretense that all in attendance would disperse, or at least quiet down, by a reasonable hour.

There was peace in the neighborhood. The party was a success and no grievances or complaints were filed.

Though they’re told infrequently, Hannah Mixon loves to hear these kinds of stories.

Mixon is a substance abuse prevention and education coordinator, an off-campus services GTF and the second-in-command of the CommUniversity Assistant’s program.

“I think it’s a sense of respect,” Mixon said. “A lot of the party issues come back to that: considering the other people around you. It seems so simple. But oftentimes it doesn’t happen.”

The CommUniversity program’s coordinators want to correct that issue via personalized education within each neighborhood.

CommUniversity is a simple yet clever conglomeration of words that together create an organization with a distinct mission: to remind students that they are not just Ducks, but that they are also a part of the Eugene community.

“Campus is only so wide,” Mixon said. “And when you’re out in those neighborhoods, you’re in Eugene neighborhoods. Just because you have a lot of other students living around you, it’s not a student neighborhood where you get special privileges and rights. It’s a neighborhood just like any other.”

The question that CommUniversity Assistants ask is would you do this in the neighborhood where your parents live?

More often than not, Mixon says, the answer is a definite “no.”

Jennifer Summers, director of substance abuse prevention and student success, as well as director for the CommUniversity program, said that the goal of the paid student interns who are the CommUniversity Assistants is “to enhance off-campus student experiences. And then go through and improve the neighborhood livability within those campus neighborhoods.”

The assistants accomplish this through various work-efforts around campus and sometimes by literally “taking it to the streets.”

“We’ll take flyers and information and go through different neighborhoods,” Lindsey Brown, a community assistant and political science major, said. ”We’ll go through South University and West University usually because that’s where most the students are.”

They address myriad issues that students face when living off-campus.

“Issues with their landlord; not knowing where to live; learning basic housing codes — codes that they should know about,” Summers said. “Such as, what are my rights if I have mold in my place? or if there’s no proper security lighting? Things like that.”

Because a lot of students move from on-campus their first year to off-campus their second year, there exists a great necessity to educate as early as possible.

“That is meant to be a very proactive educational experience,” Summers said. “But on the flip side, it’s recognizing things that have been neighborhood livability issues over the years. It’s no new issue that we hear (non-student residents) saying that they want loud parties and loud noises to be addressed.”

The CAs, who are each required to attend the neighborhood association meetings, hear the concerns of the neighborhood association directors and then begin to strategize ways to communicate that information to a very large off-campus student population.

Paying it forward

West University alone is 99 percent renter occupied and a majority of those renters are students.

According to a report made in 2011 by the Neighborhood Livability Working Group “the neighborhood has more than its share of problems typical with late night parties, low-level antisocial behavior, noise and trash as standard complaints … In 2010, the West University area accounted for over 15 percent of all crimes in Eugene and three and a half times the number of crimes in the other three neighborhoods combined.”

However, no accusations are being explicitly made by CommUniversity or the Neighborhood Association as to who is causing these disturbances.

The CAs just continue their work by speaking to anyone and everyone that they can by passing out their literature when they take it to the streets.

“We did one regarding the social host ordinance,” Brown said.

The social host ordinance, or The Ordinance on Unruly Gatherings officially, “is a new law for the City of Eugene,” according to the Office of the Dean of Students. “It holds individuals (social hosts) criminally responsible for hosting or allowing an unruly event or social gathering (party). The property owners will also be penalized if there are multiple occurrences at the same property.”

“We just wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of what was going on,” Brown said. “We weren’t trying to say this is bad or this is good. It was more like, this is the law now; and this is how you can avoid getting this citation and this how you can party safely and be a good neighbor.”

It’s this word of mouth/pay it forward style educational approach that gives Brown the opportunity to tell the story about her friend, Jerry.

The power to make a change

Did Brown’s casual conversation with Jerry actually influence his decision to communicate his party plans with his neighbors?

It’s difficult to say for sure. However, Summers hopes CommUniversity’s conversations with students encourage them to address their behaviors, similar to the way Jerry did.

“The program is meant to take students and empower them to empower other students to improve some of those off-campus student issues, and improve the livability of the neighborhoods,” Summers said.

Whatever the case may be, the CAs remain hard at work.

On March 5, the CommUniversity Assistants Program’s biggest project, the UO Housing Fair, will be held in the EMU ballroom.

The all-day event will give students and 43 different vendors, many of them rental property agencies, an opportunity to interact with one another — shop around, as it were. Also, the CA’s will be able to lay the foundation of that education for students preparing to make the move off-campus.

“We’re going to help students get connected to housing,” Mixon said. “But we also want them to be educated on how to do that, and how to live off-campus responsibly.”

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