Off-campus students sought for new street reps program


Off-campus students are being sought to act as “street representatives” in a new initiative to be launched this fall. The street reps will live in student housing in the neighbourhoods surrounding the University, connecting with their peers and providing a link to the University.

Known as the McMaster Area Support Team (MAST), the student-driven initiative is the idea of Level III science student James Richardson.

Richardson argues that off-campus students need the kind of support that fosters pride and identity, similar to that which develops in student residences. Off-campus students have the same academic and social concerns as their on-campus peers, he explains, but often feel isolated or disassociated from the University.

“It's wonderful what the University does for on-campus students,” he says. However, he adds that there is the potential to develop a sense of community among students living off campus as well.

Richardson, fellow student Matt Keresztes, the McMaster Student Union's (MSU) community relations committee representative Lisa Cuna, and student affairs community adviser Brian Donst comprise the committee that's establishing the objectives and recruiting MAST's first group of representatives. It is expected that about 20 students will be selected and trained by the start of the fall term.

The stated purposes of the initiative are:

* to provide an opportunity for creative student leadership;

* to develop communications and connections to off-campus students for social, academic and educational purposes;

* to develop a more positive relationship between the students and the community;

* to create and promote opportunities for students to be involved in the life of their communities; and

* to promote a positive recognition of the student community itself and its contribution to the neighborhoods around McMaster.

As Donst explains it, each rep will connect with 10 or 12 student houses, or about 50 students, in the neighborhood. Four will be selected to act as area representatives, one each for the communities of Binkley, Princess Point, Westdale and Ainsley Wood.

“It's not intended to be a policing effort,” says Donst. “The main focus is to help those living in student housing to develop a positive sense of community, a pride of place and a sense of ownership, accountability and responsibility.”

Both Donst and Richardson admit that residents in the areas may think the street reps are there to solve problems such as excessive noise or garbage. However, Donst points out that there are already appropriate venues both at the University and at City Hall for handling these issues.

“(The reps) are not there to force a certain standard of student behaviour or to mediate between students and residents. We don't want to make unrealistic demands of them (the reps).”

Student Affairs is providing the start-up budget, which includes a small honorarium. It is hoped that MAST will eventually be run as a partnership between the MSU and the University. Donst thinks that in future there could also be external partners from the local communities.

For a number of years, ongoing problems with off-campus students have prompted area residents to complain to the University, demanding that the institution take some action.

Issues which are of concern include excessive garbage, run-down properties and late-night rowdyism. Recently, over 400 area property owners signed a petition expressing these concerns to the University's Board of Governors. Many feel these problems will only get worse when the anticipated “double cohort” of high school graduates attend university in 2003.

Richardson encourages students who may be interested in being a street representative to send him an e-mail at