Dean Bonner addresses student discipline during Oakwatch appearance

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Dean Bonner addresses student discipline during Oakwatch appearance

By Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

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Five years ago, when Oakwatch was founded to fight the loud parties, littering and hooligan-esque crime of Pitt students, Oakland resident Janice Lorenz joined because of one goal.

“We’re trying to ferment a sense of community,” Lorenz said.

After a school year many residents anecdotally called “the best” they can remember, Pitt’s Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner spoke to Oakwatch Tuesday at the Oakland Career Center to discuss what the University has done to address those concerns.

Bonner covered three main issues during the meeting — student responsibility, conduct and parking within Oakland — all part of “how to educate students they are joining not just the campus community but the Oakland community.”

On the first issue, Bonner mentioned the addition of pages to the over-occupancy code — which mandates no more than three unrelated people live together in a single family home — among other points to remind students living off campus comes with limitations.

He also touched on how Pitt’s student programming attempts, with “late night programming [as] a top priority,”  to give students alternatives to a night of drinking at South Oakland house parties.

As for student conduct, Bonner brought up Pitt and Pitt’s police success in tamping down on students’ excessive celebrations after disruptive parties like the Steelers’ 2009 Super Bowl win — where students burned couches in the streets — and the old tradition of “Semple Fest,” where Pitt students take over Semple Street from Louisa to Bates streets for an outdoor party.

“Sometimes [students] make bad decisions,” Bonner said.

To address these decisions, Pitt police have been taking a more complete approach within the neighborhood to stopping disruptive parties as they happen instead of waiting for a complaint, says Pitt police officer Guy Johnson. This includes police patrols of Oakland during weekend nights, where officers have the autonomy to go after any noticeable disturbances.

“[Officers] are responding to what they hear and see,” Johnson said.

Upon breaking up a party pre-emptively — and avoiding a 911 call that distracts city police resources — the police will either issue their own citation or informally pass the student’s information along to student conduct. Then Pitt police will show up at the house for a “knock and talk,” where they go over the incident with the residents.

“It’s a way of letting [students] know we’re paying attention,” Johnson said.

City police are planning their own actions for Aug. 25 through 27. Commander Dan Herrmann mentioned plans for a “hot stove” action by police as a show of force to new students, breaking up parties and issuing citations as needed to prove their authority within South Oakland and parts of Carnegie Mellon University’s campus.

“We’re the bad guys,” Herrmann said jokingly of the sweep.

The plan will cost nearly $2,000 a night in overtime pay for the personnel involved — four officers and a supervisor — which, while appreciated by Oakwatch members, left some wanting clear results.

Hanson Kappelman, Oakwatch co-founder and president, looks at this investment in police presence and wishes for more concrete results than assurances from residents.

“We tried early on to get statistics [from the universities],” Kappelman said, referring to Pitt, CMU, Carlow University and others within Oakland. “They all said no.”

Such police actions tie into how Kappelman views most of the action taken by Pitt and police since the founding of Oakwatch.

“A lot of what is happening is top-down,” Kappelman said.

And while it seems its effects are working, Kappelman knows a full “cultural change” requires more student involvement. Both Kappelman and Oakland residents at the meeting called for Pitt’s Student Government Board to set up of off-campus resident advisors, or “neighborhood ambassador programs,” to give Oakland residents a student contact to voice concerns to.

Bonner was less than committal to implementing such a program. After looking at other universities’ iterations, the vice provost isn’t sure that approach would be effective.

“We’ve talked about it, but … not this this year,” Bonner said.

Bonner also briefly addressed off campus sexual assault, reiterating the issue’s importance to the University and him personally.

“One sexual assault is one too many,” Bonner said. He also described a “sickening feeling” he gets whenever such a case shows up in front of him.

As for student parking, Bonner reiterated students ability to use Port Authority buses with their Pitt ID as proof the University does not encourage students to bring cars to campus, tightening Oakland’s spare parking space supply.

“As someone who commutes into Oakland everyday, I wish none of our students had cars on campus,” Bonner said.

During his appearance, Bonner did offer one bold prediction.

Looking ahead to football season, Bonner mentioned the University had already started a task force to deal with any unruly bashes that resulted from the Pitt-Penn State game Sept. 10.

“When we beat Penn State, we will be prepared,” Bonner said to laughter.

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