The University of Mary Washington Board of Visitors met Friday Feb. 17 to discuss the current state of the university, including UMW’s response to recent community concerns and complaints related to student nuisances.
Doug Searcy, vice president for student affairs, brought the issue to the board along with an update from his perspective. Searcy has been in constant communication with community members since the fall semester, when concerns began to surface regarding noise and litter violations associated with college students.
“The issues we’re having in Fredericksburg are common in college and university settings,” said Searcy.
He also emphasized the importance of community relations and suggested that students can begin this process by introducing themselves to their neighbors and trying to build a relationship. Events such as neighborhood association meetings and the recent Student Government Association Town hall meeting can also facilitate these relationships and begin a dialogue between students and the community.
President Rick Hurley continued the conversation, emphasizing that the majority of the problems can be reconciled through logic. Hurley said that the College Heights neighborhood in particular is “in transition,” as more college students move into the community.
Both Hurley and Searcy discussed a new Banner system database that would, according to Searcy, “develop further awareness of community relations, as well as the university- community impact” by compiling all commuter addresses.
Searcy stressed that “many colleges compile the addresses of off-campus students” and that having such information would make the university more aware of commuter student impact in local communities.
SGA President Rob Belcourt also took an opportunity to respond to the BOV regarding student nuisance issues. Belcourt admitted that there has been an increase in problems this year, but emphasized that students are listening to community complaints and are willing to have discussions about the issues at hand.
Belcourt also proposed that UMW begin to “talk about what we [as students] are doing for the community,” instead of simply focusing on the negative press that has been prevalent recently. He encouraged students to attend meetings that promote a dialogue between the community and the university.
Members of Occupy Mary Wash intercepted BOV members as they arrived at Brompton for dinner on Thursday evening, delivering a packet of information outlining some of their major concerns and asking the BOV to take these opinions into consideration. The material in the packet focused on UMW’s food service provider, Sodexo, and the problems Occupy Mary Wash thinks that this corporation poses for UMW. Sodexo’s contract with UMW is currently up for renewal.
Senior Peter Hawes feels that students have no way to fully express their opinion to the administration, or the BOV. Hawes cited structural issues in the power system of the university that make it near impossible to enact significant change from a student position. It is his hope that the BOV will consider these petitions from students when they cast their votes in the board room.
“We are seeking long-term change,” Hawes said, confident that there has already been a shift in thinking on the campus due to the efforts of Occupy Mary Wash.
Katherine Giessel, another member of the Occupy movement, said that there is “not enough access to the people who are in control” of the university. She emphasized Occupy’s goal of having greater student, faculty and staff opinion voiced for the BOV, preferably from those groups personally.
Sodexo could not be reached for comment.