Village/College Compact to build upon campus-community relationship

With hopes of heightened communication and a strengthened rapport between the Village of Geneseo and the college, President Christopher Dahl and Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway co-signed the Geneseo Village/College Compact on Wednesday Dec. 5 at the Big Tree Inn.

Dahl, Hatheway, Chief of University Police Sal Simonetti and former Livingston County Judge Jerry Alonzo spoke at the event that Dahl said was a formalization of a “series of relationships surrounding our presence as a college and with our students in the village” along with “law enforcement and other aspects of village government.”

“One of Geneseo’s points of pride as a college is our relationship with the village and the surrounding community,” Dahl said.

The compact was put together by a joint task force formed in January 2012 that had representation from the college, community, on and off-campus law enforcement and the student body.

In their decision-making process behind the compact, co-chairs Simonetti and Alonzo said that they addressed and laid out issues to find common interests. Simonetti said that through this process they found both misperceptions and misunderstandings regarding the college’s involvement in student offenses on and off campus. He attributed this misperception to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that prevents the school from disclosing decisions involving violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

“You want to demonstrate that you’re being a good community member, that you’re collaborating,” Simonetti said. “So that was probably the biggest challenge.” The compact calls for transparent communication between the college and the village and their respective law enforcements and specifically reads that the University and Village Police Departments will “mutually share information about where and how underage students are procuring alcoholic beverages” and “illegal substances” and that the Village of Geneseo will “inform the college of complaints and infractions pertaining to SUNY Geneseo student conduct.”

Simonetti said that the discussions lent themselves to the “assurance that the college does take these matters seriously” and noted that the compact provides potential of an “educationally based Diversion Program” brought up by former acting Livingston County District Attorney Eric Scheiner.

The program, Alonzo said, would shift the current “two-tiered” disciplinary system in which students face repercussions from both the college Code of Conduct and the local courts, a process that Alonzo said was “more than what was necessary” and a “burden and overload” of resources.

Simonetti again cited FERPA as “one of the logistical things that needs to get worked out” as they work toward this shift.

Alonzo said that he hopes that future disciplinary decisions will involve community service that is “meaningful” with an “educational impact,” adding that he sees many students are not aware, or “cognizant of how [offenses] may impact that application for a job. How can a student who finds him or herself in this situation face consequences … but not have to be penalized in terms of future career?”

Simonetti and Alonzo also said that the committee wanted to focus on outreach for off-campus students. With area landlord Michael Devito on the task force, Alonzo said that “There was an exploration of ways to make the students a part of the community” and spoke of a forum that will exist between landlords, off-campus students and village officials that will “create a mechanism” for both students and parents to ask questions concerning their rights and responsibilities as tenants.

Both Dahl and Simonetti credited Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio, who worked to select the joint task force, as the driver behind the compact.

“We really owe a lot of gratitude to [Bonfiglio] for getting this moving in the right direction and I’m really pleased with the outcome,” Simonetti said.

“All in all, it’s about communication,” Alonzo said. “The compact creates a framework for that communication and it can only grow in positive directions from there.”