Berkeley City Council’s proposed ordinance aimed at limiting gatherings in off-campus student residences attempts to address substantial problems present in student life but would fail to bring about any effective change other than deepening the divide between UC Berkeley students and Berkeley residents.
This proposed group-living-arrangement law would require so-called “mini-dorms” — off-campus residence units where six or more people over 18 live — as well as co-ops, fraternities and sororities to set time restrictions on gatherings, impose stricter underage-drinking regulations and keep one “responsible resident” answerable to the building owner and neighbors. According to the assistant to the city manager, the ordinance was crafted in response to problems such as student injuries and deaths, sexual assault and neighborhood complaints.
One of these things is not like the other.
The city is using hot-topic campus issues to try to tackle two very different problems: student safety and community disturbances. This ordinance would be unable to deal with the problems that students face because it deals only with surface-level symptoms of college party culture. Yet it proposes to address residents’ concerns by criminalizing student behavior.
This exploitation of public opinion to serve one segment of the Berkeley community at the expense of another reflects a lack of communication between the two, which would only worsen with the implementation of this ordinance. The city is failing to respect students’ right to act like students, and students are failing to respect residents’ right to peace and quiet in their own homes.
If the city of Berkeley truly wanted to deal with student safety problems, it would not focus on punitive measures but instead support the campus’s ongoing prevention efforts. Sexual assault prevention comes from education on and awareness of rape culture and the ways in which people unknowingly participate in and perpetuate it. Student injuries and deaths from substance abuse can be countered by increasing education on responsible drug and alcohol use, and by encouraging active bystander intervention.
As for neighborhood complaints about student behavior, the solution does not lie in more stringent regulations and greater enforcement. Increasing the stakes of the consequences for students will not prevent students from engaging in the same activities but may force them to do the same activities in more unsafe ways. This would only increase danger for students — as well as resentment between students and residents — rather than foster a more open community in which both students and residents feel connected enough to respect one another’s wishes.
In addition, the city proposes that after enough complaints, bedrooms should be removed from group-living-arrangement violators. This is an unacceptable punishment for a group of students, many of whom are already financially struggling to make ends meet given a rising cost of living and a housing shortage. Taking away bedrooms would only exacerbate tension.
When the city of Berkeley so misrepresents student opinion, we wonder if City Council is taking advantage of the lack of student turnout at its meetings. Fortunately, the proposal is not official yet. The council is hosting a work session Tuesday to discuss the document. The student voice must be represented at this meeting in order to condemn a bill that jeopardizes student life. We encourage all students — those living in residence halls and mini-dorms, those in Greek life and cooperatives — to oppose the ordinance as it stands.
A compromise that will truly strengthen the community must be reached. But this ordinance is not it. Students and residents need to work together in order to ensure that there is both safety and accountability.