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National group grapples with issue
of civility on campus
October 26, 1998

Officials from seven universities shared ideas on how to build a more civil campus community for students, faculty and neighbors at a national think-tank last week that was co-sponsored by UConn.

The conference - "Rites of Spring: Exploring Strategies for System Change" - was held in Arlington, Va.

The impetus behind the conference was drinking-related violence by students that occurred at universities around the country last spring.

Chancellor Mark A. Emmert said the conference placed UConn together with other major universities that have experienced the same problems, allowed staff to talk to colleagues at other schools about their respective problems and steps they've taken to try to solve them, and provided a network for staff.

"It reminded us that this is not a UConn-specific problem," said Emmert, who led the 10-member UConn team. "In fact, it's almost a national epidemic."

He said, however, that UConn was disappointed that "the more we talk with people the more we find that what we did last year to plan the (University Weekend) event was pretty good.

"We learned we did many very good things, that all the hard work of the students and staff was well done and yet we still had difficulties," Emmert said. "That gives us a sense of frustration. It also points out that this is a very complex problem for which there are no simple solutions."

In addition to UConn, participants were the University of Colorado-Boul der, Penn State University, Miami University in Ohio, Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, Michigan State University, and Ohio University. All had campus disturbances last spring.

UConn co-sponsored the one-day conference with the University of Colorado, the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, and Gov. John Rowland's Drugs Don't Work program.

"It was a very helpful opportunity to learn from others," said Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs, "and to hear of some of the solutions that other universities have used."

She said the individual universities are sifting through conference papers to develop their own approaches to dealing with campus-community issues. The group will issue a report in November.

Triponey did point to one major university's experience with a "party-response" team comprised of students. "It's a group of students who have been trained to calm things down when something happens off campus. They can go to the scene of party that might get out of hand to warn them. That way the first response is by students," she said. "That's something we may implement here. But collectively, I think we're heading in the right direction."

Triponey said the universities are looking for ways to help students become more committed to each other and to the campus community. "There was a tremendous showing of support among the universities to find lasting solutions," she said.

Sharon Kipetz, dean of students, echoed Triponey's comments. Kipetz said those who attended the conference thought it "provided an opportunity to think about the root cause of the problem and to formulate the next steps."

Emmert said UConn will use data from the conference to "Inform the conversations we're having with the Special Task Force and others as we move into the remainder of the semester and can make some decisions about Spring Weekend."

The Chancellor's Special Task Force will consider recommendations from the UConn team in November.

Ken Ross