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Duke-Durham event seeks to improve relations

Students living off campus will benefit from knowing their neighborhood and city better, officials said.

Durham County Alcohol Beverage Control and Alcohol Law Enforcement officials, residents, Duke administrators and students met for the fourth annual Off-Campus Stakeholder Reception Thursday afternoon at the Newman Catholic Student Center near East Campus. Christine Pesetski, assistant dean for off-campus and mediation services, organized the event in an effort to help both students understand their role in the Durham community and Durham residents find ways to interact with students.

“In many cases students are living in neighborhoods much like those where they grew up in,” Pesetski said. “Neighborhoods around Duke’s campus may look different but the same values that existed in the neighborhoods the students grew up in are alive and well.”

Sara-Jane Raines, operations commander for the Duke University Police Department and Trinity ’83, said Duke-Durham relations have greatly improved over the past 23 years she has worked for DUPD. Raines attributed the improvements largely to community-building efforts.

“Duke was very isolated when I was here [as a student] in the 70s,” she said.

Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, neighborhood coordinator at Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, said she remembered when the Duke-Durham relationship was marred by a lack of trust.

“It took a lot of well-meaning people and volunteers who met for hours with members of the community [to improve relations],” she explained.

Sophomore Gracie Lynne, senator for Durham and regional affairs in Duke Student Government, said she has made an effort to introduce freshmen to Durham, noting her role in the Project BUILD pre-Orientation program, which incorporates a scavenger hunt through downtown Durham each year.

The event represents the University’s larger goal of improving relations between off-campus students and Durham residents. Later in the year, there will be a housing fair where local property managers are invited to answer students’ questions directly, Pesetski said.

Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, said the reception provided a more productive environment for discussing issues, rather than waiting for an altercation between students and residents about issues like noise control.

“It’s like a roommate agreement—proactive agreement to fend off disagreements,” he said.

Duke students should try to make time to explore Durham and take advantage of its resources, said Sharon Barringer, assistant district commander of the Durham Police Department.

“You focus on education and you don’t get to explore the city and find the resources outside of campus,” she explained.

DUPD Chief John Dailey said students living off campus have a responsibility to understand the resources and organizations offered through both Duke and Durham that exist to help them.

Despite instances of noise complaints, he said most students living off campus are good neighbors.

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek called the event an investment, adding that it allowed students, neighbors and law enforcement officers to meet in a casual setting before problems arise.

Will Geary, a senior who lives off- campus, said he was grateful for the opportunity to meet police officers in his area.

“So far [the move to off-campus] has been very smooth, and I want to keep it that way,” he said.

Editor's Note: This article originally ran in print in our September 2nd issue. The Chronicle regrets the delay.

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