Changing Behavior

CAP results in fewer complaints against off-campus students

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

A focus on mediation and conflict resolution, rather than confrontation, by the Boston College Community Assistance Program appears to be paying dividends in the form of fewer, and less serious, infractions by off-campus students.

Now in its eighth year, the Boston College Community Assistance Program has quietly become a major force in the University's efforts to foster positive relations between off-campus undergraduate students and local neighborhoods, according to administrators.

Directed by the Office of the Dean for Student Development, CAP is staffed by graduate students who respond to neighbors' complaints or concerns that involve BC undergraduates living off-campus. As CAP has evolved, University administrators say it has helped change the way students view their responsibilities as residents in local communities.

Paulette Durrett.

"The goal of CAP is to resolve issues as much as possible without involving other authorities," said Assistant Dean for Student Development Paulette Durrett, who is the program's administrator and oversees off-campus student life. "We want both students and neighbors to know we are here to help them. The people who work in CAP genuinely care about the University and its students, but also the neighborhoods and those who live in them."

According to Community Affairs Director Jean McKeigue, "CAP has been a valuable part of our efforts to help undergraduates recognize that they are held to the same standards for their conduct off the campus as on it."

There are eight CAP participants this year, as well as a student coordinator, who are on duty from 9 p.m.-3 a.m. weekends and some holidays - they may also work during special events, such as football game days - in Brighton, Newton and Brookline neighborhoods. Typically, CAP responds to complaints regarding student behavior that are relayed by the Boston College Police Department. CAP members can request police assistance in handling a situation, but coordinator Lina Shebaro says that is rarely necessary.

"We tend to have more compliance than resistance when we deal with students," said Shebaro, a graduate student in the Chemistry Department. "One reason is, by now students are more familiar with us and what we are trying to accomplish. In years past, we'd have to first spend time explaining who we were.

"We also make it clear to the students that it is in their own best interests to deal with us," Shebaro continued. "The alternative might mean dealing with the police, which could result in some serious consequences."

All CAP reports are reviewed by ODSD and the University can elect to pursue judicial action against students, depending on the seriousness of the incident.

Durrett credits CAP with the significant drop-off in the number of complaints about off-campus student behavior she has received over the five years she has worked at Boston College. Furthermore, she said, the nature of the complaints has changed during that time.

"Instead of major incidents," she explained, "it more often seems to be a complaint about, for example, a few students who were being too loud as they walked through a neighborhood." All complaints, she stressed, are treated seriously.

Durrett and Shebaro say CAP's effectiveness stems partly from its focus on mediation and conflict resolution, they say, which tends to draw candidates with useful experience, such as teaching assistants, interfaith group leaders, coaches and members of the armed forces. CAP staffers receive training, and hold regular meetings to discuss reports and methods, and share observations.

CAP and ODSD also have worked to enhance communication among students and neighbors, such as through face-to-face meetings prior to or early in the academic year. This casual, non-confrontational contact can often reduce the likelihood of an adversarial relationship, Durrett and Shebaro said.

"Again, we want to let students know CAP is not out to get them and that we can be of help," Durrett said. "Sometimes, the issue may be relatively easy to resolve - maybe the students need to pay more attention to the appearance of their house. Perhaps the situation is trickier, like a social event where the students have become unable to control the number, or behavior of their guests. CAP can intercede and try to work things out and keep it from worsening."

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