By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 4, 2012
Students living off-campus wishing to better connect with their neighbors now have more opportunity for collaboration as Beyond the Diag — a student-led initiative kicking off its second year — expands to encompass six times as many neighborhoods as last year.
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The program, which currently includes 11 neighborhoods near Central Campus and one near North Campus, originally came to fruition after safety concerns were raised in off-campus areas during summer 2011. The program aims to educate students on neighborhood resources and responsibilities, as well as connect them with other people living in the same off-campus neighborhoods.
Coordinators plan to add another North Campus neighborhood, much of which is off of Plymouth Road, across from the border of North Campus, facing much of Northwood Community Apartments and the Courtyard Apartments, which are a part of the West Murfin neighborhood.
Beyond the Diag's operations are also expanding. LSA senior Josh Buoy, the Beyond the Diag co-coordinator, said neighborhood ambassadors living in 10 of the 12 neighborhoods will distribute off-campus living guides and act as points of reference for fellow students. Buoy said the ambassadors are comparable to residential advisors in the University’s residence halls.
“If residents have questions, they can go to the neighborhood ambassadors who will hopefully have the answers or know where the answers exist,” Buoy said. “We very much believe that if people know each other better, then they will feel safer because they’ll know who lives in their neighborhood.”
The ambassadors work three to four hours a week and are compensated for their time. They are also asked to plan two or three events per semester for residents living in their neighborhoods.
Buoy said one of the most important aspects of the program is creating a culture of off-campus living that will become part of the “Michigan Tradition.”
“We have a lot of amazing traditions here, but to work something new into that mix can be challenging,” Buoy said. “But I think the student support has been really strong.”
Pharmacy student Stephanie Hamel, the other Beyond the Diag co-coordinator, said the two areas the program worked in last year served as “pilot neighborhoods.” She added that after researching similar programs at other universities over the summer and surveying students, Beyond the Diag will have a much stronger presence this year.
“Last year ... we didn’t do any specific smaller events in the neighborhoods,” Hamel said. “The student ambassadors we had were kind of spread across campus and working more on a program-wide basis.”
Hamel said the program is expected to hire a faculty member as the program director, which she said she believes will further strengthen the program. The program director will work to raise funds, find corporate sponsors and provide institutional support.
Hamel also emphasized the importance of instilling a campus culture with the program.
“We want this to be something that students look to for support and information off-campus,” she said.
Rackham student Matt Lonnerstater, a program assistant, oversees all of the neighborhood ambassadors, and said he became involved to learn more about community organization and urban planning.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to really practice what I wanted to do in the future but also improve student life off-campus,” Lonnerstater said. “I lived off-campus for three years and never once was there a neighborhood party.”
Neighborhood ambassadors will distribute the new off-campus living guides in the next two weeks. The program’s website, offcampus.umich.edu, will also launch at the end of the week.