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[Mary Kinosian/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

While some students choose to move off campus to escape the structure and surveillance of dorm life, many still want to be part of a similar tight-knit community. That's the idea behind an Undergraduate Assembly proposal set to be put into effect on a trial basis this spring. The program will take selected off-campus residential blocks heavily populated by Penn undergraduates and integrate them into a closer community through everything from "block leaders" to safety initiatives. "While students move off campus to have independence, it's always nice to have the opportunity to have social interaction with neighbors," said College junior and UA University Council Steering Committee Representative Jason Levy. "The goal is to get students to think of themselves as a part of a community." The initiative -- which was developed through discussions with campus and city officials -- will be implemented as a pilot program later this semester on 41st Street between Spruce and Walnut streets and on Locust Street between 40th and 41st streets. Similar to the college house system on campus, each block will have a sum of money to fund activities and projects for the block, as well as a designated leader. Each leader -- or block captain -- would function much like a resident adviser. The block captains are still undetermined. The "administrative off-campus facilitator role" of the block captain would involve helping with landlord problems, providing a neighborhood watch program and facilitating an off-campus recycling program, said Wharton senior and UA Vice Chairman Ethan Kay. Kay said that a central difference between block captains and resident advisers is that block captains are "not authoritative at all." "When you live off campus, you kind of get isolated to your house," said Yelena Gershman, a Wharton sophomore and UA Campus Life Committee chairwoman. "It's a way to get to know your neighbors... and also to tie the students back to a sort of on-campus life." In addition to trying to build a sense of community, the proposal makes provisions to increase safety and communication. "The police department is very much involved with this," Gershman continued. One aspect of the program that its creators hope will increase off-campus safety is an e-mail listserv. If a robbery occurs in one house, all the houses on the block will be notified immediately. Residents may also be able to register their bikes. The listserv would ease communication among block residents, Gershman said. "Simple things like noise complaints or garbage complaints... if people know their neighbors, they can just go knock on the door and send an e-mail rather than complaining to landlords." Levy noted that not all residents on the proposed blocks are Penn students. "We're not going to exclude people who are not part of Penn from the community," he said. "It's an opportunity to build community between groups who wouldn't normally talk to each other -- the typical Penn student and a West Philly resident." "If the program is successful," he continued, "it will be an opportunity for each to understand the other." Already, the program has garnered unexpected support from the administration, according to Gershman. The UA's biggest concern, Gershman claims, is "getting students involved and caring about the program." "We don't want [students] thinking that this is a way for us to curb their independence." Gershman said. "This isn't meant to be a project to control them." "I've heard a lot of positive comments," Kay said. "The only apprehension is whether this program would in a way confine the independence of students who choose to live off campus for that reason, but I think we mitigate that here by having a more flexible and voluntary development of community." Students' opinions on the issue vary. "So far it sounds like a good idea," College junior Lateisha Moore said. "There doesn't seem to be too much harm in trying it out." Moore currently lives off campus, but she said that this project's implementation would not have affected her choice of housing. College senior Afnan Tariq, who lives on South 41st Street, disagreed. "I guess it's not a bad idea in concept, but in execution, I would have my doubts about how affiliated we want to be with the University," he said. "It's not a bad idea to set up an e-mail chain and have some communication, but it's a little too much like a college house." "As for block parties," he continued, "we can do that ourselves."

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