Helping to bridge the gaps between Hopkins students and the Charles Village community, Carrie Bennett oversaw and mediated a dramatic change during her seven years as the student-community liaison.
This post, which she left at the end of the summer, stemmed from a novel idea she had to tackle a problem many colleges faced when trouble arose with neighborhood residents.
“I have been very fortunate in that many schools have a person or persons that deal with what we call town-gown issues, but nobody has done it like we have,” Bennett said.
In the creation of the liaison position back in 2005, Bennett hoped to communicate her role to students and avoid any misconceptions about how it would impact students’ lives.
“I was very fortunate to very quickly build a rapport with students, I was very afraid that they would look at me as someone out to completely ruin their social life,” she said.
In 1993, Bennett began her career at Hopkins as a campus police officer. When she became a sergeant a few years later, part of her duties included reviewing police reports that gave her insight into the issues arising between Hopkins students and the local community. Back then, the Hopkins undergraduate body was roughly half the size of what it is now.
As the student population grew, so did the complaints that the university received of disruptive behavior from students residing in the community. During Bennett’s years as a liaison, a coordinated effort between students and community members made significant strides in easing tensions.
“The students have agreed that ‘Hey, yeah, maybe we should have to manage our parties and maybe we shouldn’t let our front yards look like the day after Preakness,’” Bennett explained, “and the neighbors on the other hand have said ‘Okay, we don’t have to call the cops every time, we can call the liaison, she gets there faster, let her handle it and the university handle it,’ and that’s been critical.”
Bennett’s involvement has also alleviated the burden that her superiors and various administrators previously had in handling complaints.
“They all come to me and I handle them and that’s it,” she said. “People way above me are not getting involved in matters they don’t have a hand in anymore.”
On her nighttime patrols, Bennett would begin at the corner of 34th and N. Charles with a late dinner in hand and plenty of friendly faces walking along the way.
“I liked that spot because it is very visible,” she said. “Students often dropped by my patrol vehicle to catch up.”
Bennett would then make her way around the neighborhood, driving to specific addresses of any planned parties to inspect how well students were managing their events. The rest of her night would situate her near the more heavily trafficked areas.
“I would try to encourage proper behavior, stop and correct any issues that I found and, of course, respond to any complaints called in about student parties,” she said.
Her nickname of “The Shush Lady” arose from one of the more common issues she mediated: noise complaints.
Bennett’s departure stems from her mother’s passing in June and her concern for her father’s ability to live alone with age-related mental challenges.
While she hopes to be employed as a civilian in the Carlyle police department or in campus security at either nearby Dickinson College or Shippensburg University, Bennett cannot see herself creating a similar position at another college.
“I think a lot of my success was based on my love for Hopkins, and I don’t want to be forced to try and repeat that at another school,” she said.
Bennett viewed Hopkins students as her own children by proxy during their four years at the University. She also regards student interaction and involvement in the neighborhood community as crucial aspects of the undergraduate education.
“I do believe that the experiences you have outside of the classroom in your four years at a university are as important, if not more important, than the experiences you have inside the classroom,” she said.
While she is not involved with the selection process for a new liaison, Bennett sees her replacement as someone who can take as much ownership of the position as she did and continue to work towards keeping a stable relationship between the students and the community.
“He or she will need to build a working respectful relationship with both the undergrads and our neighbors.”