Discarded furniture. Poorly-parked cars. Loud gatherings and general noisiness. Alisa Dreyer ’21 has been a student assistant in Chapman University’s Office of Community Relations for almost four years, so she’s familiar with the kinds of issues neighbors experience sometimes concerning students living in the community.
Traditionally, such concerns have been fielded by Community Relations, and community liaison visits have been conducted by the university’s Department of Public Safety in partnership with the Orange Police Department. But this semester, instead of sending uniformed officers to deal with minor grievances, Dreyer is helping to launch a new student outreach program that seeks to solve problems with a friendly peer-to-peer visit.
“Students aren’t out to get neighbors. They just aren’t aware of the impact that they have,” says Alisa Dreyer ’21.
Dreyer, who is majoring in education, welcomes the chance to work hands-on in the community. “I’ve always had more communication with neighbors than with Chapman students,” says Dreyer of her past experience while working in Community Relations. “But with this opportunity, we’ve gotten to know both sides and can better navigate that relationship.”
Alina Sheeran ’23, who also works in Community Relations, partnered with Dreyer to develop the outreach program. “I think what’s really exciting about it for me is when we talk to the students they seem super receptive of our feedback and very respectful of us even though we’re both students. That was very heartening,” she says.
Making Positive Change with a Peer-to-Peer Connection
Currently, the team makes several visits a month, depending on the number of calls that come into the office. The primary goal is to educate students — most of whom have never lived on their own before — about how their actions may impact their neighbors.
“Our first house was for trash cans,” says Dreyer. “They literally were just not aware that you were supposed to bring in your trash cans, so they always left the trash cans out on the street. When we talked to them about it, they were really appreciative that we told them.”
“Students aren’t out to get neighbors. They’re not purposely leaving out trash cans and parking terribly because they don’t care. They just aren’t aware of the impact that they have on neighbors,” she says.
So far, the office hasn’t had to make any repeat visits. Dreyer thinks a large part of their success is because students are more willing to listen to someone who is a peer. “It’s a safe and friendly environment, and they’re a lot more receptive and willing to plan a solution with neighbors when we talk to them.”
Learning to Mediate Community Conflicts
Alisa Driscoll, interim vice president of community relations, would like to expand the outreach program in the future to include formal mediation training for students. Ideally, the program will include campus leaders from Greek life, athletics and other organizations who want to serve as ambassadors to their peers who live off-campus.
If problems persist even after a student outreach visit, neighbors can now take advantage of Chapman’s new partnership with OC Human Relations, who will provide third-party mediation at no cost to the participants. Late night parties and other unruly, disruptive behavior will still be handled by officers from Chapman and OPD.