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Forum touts reaching out
as best way to enhance community
October 26, 1998

Thousands of members of the University community share a sense of pride and togetherness, but those people tend to form into a patchwork quilt of small clusters rather than one cohesive body across campus, a group of about 50 people agreed Tuesday during an open forum led by subcommittee members of the Chancellor's Task Force on Community and Civility.

The trick for task force members, and the about 20,000 people on campus daily, is to combine the groups into a whole.

"Within the next 30 days, everyone in this room should make it a point to cross a boundary, to breach a wall, drop in on someone," challenged Peter Halvorson, a task force member and professor of geography, who co-chaired the meeting along with Ronald Schurin, assistant to the president, and John Bennett, director of The Academic Experience program and a professor of mechanical engineering.

The task force, created to develop ways to enhance the sense of community, has met several times with various groups and will continue meeting throughout the year. Tuesday's gathering was the largest, Halvorson said.

During the 90-minute session, reaching out to others emerged as one of the single most important tasks. Students suggested that faculty and staff should visit residence halls for dinner more often, or invite them to University events. Several faculty and staff suggested students should be more involved in campus activities, and invite professors to dine with them. Some said they'd like to be introduced to others even within their own departments.

But many suggested that UConn actually was a friendly place, and that there is more community in Storrs than may meet the eye.

"I think it's very warm, friendly, here," said Ann Denny, who came to UConn four months ago from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a college she said has a "strong" sense of community. Denny said she has made herself reach out and become involved and, once she makes a connection, the reception is welcoming.

Jeffrey von Munkwitz Smith, who said he became UConn's registrar about a year ago, agreed. He said he believes UConn has a much stronger sense of community than the University of Minnesota, where he worked previously. "But I have had to reach out too, to leave my door open so students, staff, know they can always walk in," he says.

Debra Rubenstein, director of Hillel on North Eagleville Road, says students regularly pack events that occur there. She and others at the meeting said many students are looking for an alcohol-free environment. Several people suggested the University construct an alcohol-free club, and were pleased to learn one is being built in the Student Union, to be called The Oasis.

Another troublesome area that is being targeted for change is a "prevailing attitude of territorialism between departments in several areas of campus," said Judy Preston, coordinator of Greek life. "I think it's changing, but not fast enough," she said.

Preston said the sense of community could be strengthened "If we could focus on what we could do better collaboratively."

Richard Veilleux