In past years, many UW-Eau Claire students have felt disconnected from the surrounding community, student body President Branden Yates said, despite the city’s reputation for innovative collaborations and partnerships.

But this year, Yates said, he’s hoping to trigger a culture change — starting with a block party thrown Thursday night in collaboration with the Randall Park Neighborhood Association.

“This is a neighborhood, and it’s really important that we come together,” Yates said. “I think Eau Claire is a great community, but I think sometimes students don’t feel like they’re part of it. So this is a way to make them feel like yes, they can be part of it.” 

The block party, hosted by the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate and the neighborhood association, drew hundreds — college students, residents, local police officers and city officials — to Randall Park for yard games, music and free food.

Though the block party has been held in previous years, the gathering follows controversy in March, when the Eau Claire City Council attempted to update a 1953 public good ordinance in hopes of reducing problems caused by excessively drunken people in neighborhoods such as Randall Park and the 3rd Ward. 

UW-Eau Claire students met the proposed updates with anger and frustration, as they felt they weren’t included in the conversations about the ordinance or how it could affect them, while nearby neighbors expressed frustrations at frequent, loud parties and other irresponsible behaviors related to excessive drinking.

Dana Sterzinger, a resident of the Randall Park neighborhood, said she feels like relationships with students and their behavior have improved since she attended college. She said since they moved to the neighborhood, they’ve had a few issues but not enough to motivate her to leave.

“That’s just this neighborhood,” she said with a shrug.

After meetings with community members, including City Council members, neighborhood associations and students from UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College, the issue will be presented before the City Council in fall.

Yates said he’s happy to support the updated resolution now, renamed the Excessive Public Intoxication Ordinance. 

“I think students were really heard on it,” Yates said. “I think it’s something that’s so the spirit of Eau Claire — of people coming together, collaborations and partnerships being created.”

UW-Eau Claire student body Vice President Maddie Forrest added she hopes the block party also shows students are willing to make more effort with the community.

“With the new class coming in, it’s important to instill this as a tradition,” she said. “We really want to get back to those roots of getting to know our neighbors. We’re all people, we’re all neighbors, and we all need to be respectful of everyone.”

Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said she was pleased at the turnout of the event.

“I think this is the perfect way to press reset on community relations,” she said. “I think this group of students is really trying to bridge the gap. ... The success of this event really speaks for itself.” 

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