House Code: Conduct rules now apply off-campus

Jeanny Le, left, and Aimee Zabel sit outside of their house on Lawn Park Avenue.  The two chose to live off campus to escape university rules, but are now finding out they are still accountable.

by Paul Mullin

The jurisdiction of Rider’s Student Code of Social Conduct has been more clearly defined to include off-campus residents, as specified in a new section of The Source Student Handbook for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The new passage, located on page 72 of The Source, says that the Code of Conduct “may apply to any student conduct that occurs on university premises, at university-sponsored activities and also off-campus conduct that adversely affects the university community or the pursuit of its objectives.”

“It’s not unusual for schools to have something like this in place,” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell. “It really comes down to when students are off-campus that they are still representing the university.”

Campbell pointed out that there already existed in The Source an infraction entitled “Violation of the Law,” which says that if a student violates “federal, state or local laws,” he or she is subject to university regulations as well as community ones.

This development comes a little more than a year after the implementation of Rider’s new alcohol policy, created in the aftermath of the alcohol-related death of 18-year-old freshman Gary DeVercelly, Jr. in March 2007.

The installation of the new policy has resulted in a significant increase in arrests and disciplinary action regarding alcohol violations (see story below), and the extension of the code of conduct appears to be the next link in the chain.

Knowledge of the policy among off-campus students seems scant, and the general consensus appears to be that it defeats the main purpose of moving into the community in the first place.

“We moved off campus for a reason, for more freedom and to escape Rider’s pressure,” said senior Aimee Zabel. “Now to find out we are still under the same rules is unfair.”

According to Keith Kemo, director of the Rider Office of Community Standards, the new passage is meant to “clarify when the student is responsible” under the university’s policies.

“Basically, we say that if you are a member of our community, you are a member always,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the level of university involvement will differ depending on the situation. He said that for simple disputes among neighbors that the university will “try to step in and mediate the situation,” for example, while a harsher offense would likely fall under the “Violation of the Law” category.

Kemo said that the need to make sure this was as clear as possible stems from the trend of students “making the choice to live off campus.”

“The university had to take a look to see how we collectively, as a community, were going to respond to things that adversely affect the university community,” he said.

Kemo said that he and Campbell met with Lawrenceville Student Government Association (SGA) President Brian Pawelko and Westminster Choir College SGA President Ryan LaBoy to discuss the issue and to make sure the student voice was not lost in the process.

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) has had a similar policy in place since July 1, 2002, that states, “If a student living on or off campus is cited for violations off campus, that individual is subject to judicial action within the campus judicial system as governed by the Statement of Expectations for Off Campus Behavior.”

“We realized that [Ewing Township] isn’t necessarily a college town,” said Lynette Harris, director of Community Standards at TCNJ. “We thought that if we could be proactive more than reactive it could downgrade some of the residents’ concerns.”

According to Harris, TCNJ collaborated with Ewing to create the Township and College Together (TACT) committee, composed of residents, the mayor, members of the town council, students and college officials. The committee holds meetings in which those who attend can talk about various issues dealing with off-campus housing, Harris said.

According to Kemo, Pawelko and some members of the Rider administration have also been attending these meetings.

The TACT committee also created a “Community Watch Initiative,” which sends out “walking patrol teams” of residents to inspect neighborhoods on select nights and weekends and report anything suspicious they see to the police and subsequently the TCNJ administration.

Residents with complaints are urged to contact the police first, who will then alert TCNJ, which in turn notifies the students involved that a complaint has been registered, Harris said.

According to Campbell, Rider’s policy will work much the same way, but he stressed that the university will not be trying to root out violators.

“We aren’t driving off campus looking for things, but if we are notified, we will respond to it,” he said. “The key word here is ‘may,’ we may get involved.”

But this doesn’t appear to be enough to comfort some students.

“That was one of the reasons I moved off campus, to get away from the restrictions that Rider has put on the students,” said junior Nick Savaiano. “I think it’s a little ridiculous.”

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