Neighborhood groups lack student involvement


The Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods have long sought involvement from the thousands of University of Minnesota students living in the two communities.

Both neighborhoods have active organizations whose bylaws designate two board seats to students. But a lack of student interest and difficulties recruiting make the positions hard to fill.

While ties to the student population have steadily increased over the past five years, the neighborhood groups still say there’s room for improvement..

“It’s more twisting arms getting people to run for [seats], to be honest,” said James De Sota, neighborhood director for the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

SECIA currently has two students who serve as general members on its board. But it lost a student representative last fall and is looking for a replacement. As a three-year term, the seat can be a big commitment for some,, De Sota said.

“Every year is a new process,” he said. “It really is a block-by-block experience in the neighborhoods surrounding the [University].”

Not all University-area neighborhoods have designated positions for students. Prospect Park, which encompasses parts of East Bank, doesn’t designate student spots on its organization’s 40-member board of directors. But the group — Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association­ — identified more student representation and involvement as one of its goals last year.

As more young people move into the area each year, the neighborhood works to increase student involvement in the group, President Dick Poppele said.

“We don’t think of students as representing a certain block of individuals,” he said. “We treat everybody as a resident.”

Recently, PPERRIA hired consultants to help spread the word of its new, more student-friendly direction.

Groups like the University’s Student Neighborhood Liaisons also provide outreach for young residents in the area, sometimes assisting neighborhood groups to fill vacant board seats.

It’s a struggle, said Kendre Turonie, coordinator for Student and Community Relations at the University.

She said the academic calendar and students’ shifting living situations often inhibit year-long participation.

While student involvement in neighborhood planning doesn’t happen overnight, some students believe active participation is a critical part in improving neighborhood conversation.

Graduate student Brandon Baumbach moved to Cedar Riverside last year to work with some of the neighborhood’s organizations, including the African Development Center.

Baumbach is enrolled in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ CHANCE program. The program annually selects 10 students to work with local businesses and community members to create long-term projects benefiting the area.

The community-based research approach is the first step to improving student-neighborhood relationships in the area, said Baumbach, who also sits on the West Bank Community Coalition’s board of directors.

The WBCC is looking at student focus groups as tools to relay student-resident concerns, said Michael Schmitz the organization’s executive director.

Similar initiatives have materialized in Marcy-Holmes in recent years. Student focus groups are already underway, providing feedback for the community. The neighborhood currently has one of its two reserved student seats open. student.

Southeast Como takes on a different approach —, the group tries to encourage daily participation, with about 100 students working with SECIA, often as volunteers and interns. s.

“We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t trying to engage the student body,” De Sota said.