Viewpoint

Cal Poly strives to understand community, be good neighbor

June 30, 2014 

I’ve been Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs for a little more than a year. That’s been more than enough time for my family and me to fall in love with San Luis Obispo.

It’s also given me time to start wrapping my arms around the connection between the university and the community — and how Cal Poly can enhance that relationship.

As with any relationship, there are challenges. Part of my work has been to listen, probe and try to understand how Cal Poly can improve our relationship with the city and help our students grow and learn as community members.

We have made great strides. Still, I believe there are opportunities for further growth. And I know Cal Poly’s leadership team is committed to being a good neighbor and partner.

In the Student Affairs division, we have worked with students to reframe the Week of Welcome schedule and programming to cut down on idle time that leads to neighborhood disturbances during orientation.

Last year, we began requiring students to take part in educational programs when cited or arrested for off-campus violations. We have hired an offcampus student life coordinator , whose work includes strengthening education efforts to all students. This includes those making the transition to off-campus living — a time that we know can lead to issues in our neighborhoods.

We have worked with our fraternities and sororities to implement a new party registration program, as part of a broader slate of new Greek Life governance policies being instituted over the next few years. And we are open to discussing how that model might be adopted for all campus clubs.

We are active in the Neighborhood Wellness and Community Civility Task Force. This group — a joint effort involving Cal Poly, Cuesta College and the city of San Luis Obispo and co-chaired by me and my Cuesta counterpart, Sandee McLaughlin — will present a list of tangible goals and projects to San Luis Obispo’s mayor and City Council, Cuesta College President Gil Stork and Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong by the end of 2014, aimed at enhancing the interactions between all of our students and the broader community.

And we are moving forward with our longer-term efforts to bring as many as two-thirds of our students into university housing. The next step is the First-Year Student Housing South project at Grand Avenue, which will bring more than 1,000 students from city neighborhoods onto campus.

Part of our effort to better understand neighborhood issues includes getting a clearer idea of who is threatening community wellness. That will allow us all to target our efforts more directly at the people — whether Cal Poly students or not — whose behaviors we need to help change. In late 2013, we commissioned data from our local law enforcement agencies on the total number of noise complaints and total arrests of people ages 18-30. We now have those figures from September 2013 through March of this year. They include both the city and the campus.

To my knowledge, this data has not been collected in this way before. The results underscore the idea that neighborhood wellness will require the concerted efforts of Cal Poly, the city, Cuesta College and our neighbors. Of the 706 arrests during that time, 24.5 percent (or 173 arrests) were Cal Poly students, and 46 percent of the 358 noise violations were given to Cal Poly students living off campus. Our partnership with neighborhood associations has also revealed that a high percentage of the noise violations come from a small percentage of locations within the neighborhoods.

We will continue to collect this sort of information to help us better understand the issues we face and develop responses that make San Luis Obispo a stronger community for all who live here.

We look forward to further partnering with the city in common areas of concern, including a rental inspection program to help ensure the elimination of over-occupancy and unsafe living conditions, and a neighborhood stabilization program to encourage more owner-occupied housing in the city.

We don’t have all the answers to the issue. In the Cal Poly tradition, this will be a Learn by Doing endeavor. The first and most important step is for everyone involved to embrace open communication to ensure that we’re hearing ideas, perspectives and reactions from all corners.

I invite you to contact me directly at humphrey@calpoly.edu with your ideas, opinions, concerns, complaints and questions. I look forward to hearing from you and to working with all members of the San Luis Obispo community to further enrich our vibrant campus and community.

Keith Humphrey is Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs.

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