Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

44° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Following town hall, NU to discuss ‘brothel law’ with city

About 500 Northwestern students, outraged by Evanston’s impending enforcement of the so-called “brothel law,” packed into Norris University Center’s McCormick Auditorium Tuesday night for a town hall meeting led by University and Evanston officials.

The officials – Dean of Students Burgwell Howard, Assistant Dean of Students Betsi Burns and Evanston’s division manager of building and inspection services, Jeff Murphy – took turns attempting to answer student questions. Many of their answers were interrupted by heckling, shouting and laughter.

Burns and Howard said they will meet with city officials Wednesday to discuss the issue, though Burns said there is “a limitation” to what the Student Affairs administrators can do to prevent the enforcement of the law and possible eviction of off-campus student residents. Ultimately, they said, students must address their concerns directly with the city. The Associated Student Government is organizing a response to the developments and will vote on legislation Wednesday.

The “brothel law,” a zoning ordinance prohibiting more than three unrelated people from living together, has not been enforced for years. But city officials told The Daily this week that they’ll begin to enforce it on July 1, which could lead to the evictions of hundreds of students from their off-campus residences. The University has been in discussion with city officials, but because they view a change to the ordinance’s enforcement as unlikely, the administration is now looking to alternative solutions pending some students’ displacement.

NU is not currently looking into purchasing more off-campus housing, Howard said at the meeting.

Though the law has been on the books for years, the city has not regularly fined violators. Evanston firmly plans to begin enforcing the law July 1 in an effort to appease the non-student residents living near campus.

ASG leaders began circulating a petition early Wednesday morning urging students to sign and voice their concerns about the ordinance. Other ASG members drafted legislation late Tuesday night which, if enacted, will “strongly exhort the university to oppose the enforcement of the ordinance and work with the city to repeal or amend the ordinance,” according to the document obtained by The Daily.

ASG President Claire Lew said students’ concerns are justified, but it is primarily their responsibility to try and change the ordinance.

“Northwestern doesn’t vote,” the SESP senior said. “The university’s role in this is limited, and if we really want to get the solution we desire, we should take it upon ourselves to lobby the city.”

Lew also said it is very unlikely Evanston will repeal the law, and a better solution is to seek an amendment that will prevent student eviction.

Another online petition, independent from ASG, began circulating after the meeting. The petition, entitled “Repeal the Brothel Law,” had more than 1900 signatures early Wednesday morning.

The change in policy is an “indirect consequence” of conflict between students and Evanston residents, who complained of heavy student partying in the fall, Howard acknowledged at the meeting.

More than 50 violation letters regarding the ordinance have already accrued, Murphy announced at the meeting. Those letters will be sent July 1.

The town hall began at 7 p.m., drawing so many students that some could not enter. The meeting, which was planned prior to widespread campus outrage over the ordinance, began with the pretense of discussing multiple off-campus related topics. Almost immediately it took a different turn: a brief discussion of impending Chicago Transit Authority changes was interrupted, setting the tone for the rest of the event.

“Are we going to talk about how we don’t want this to happen, or are you just going to tell us how we can’t live in groups of more than three?” asked Medill sophomore Emilia Barrosse, a former Daily staffer, while Howard was speaking.

“I’ll get to that in a moment,” he responded sharply.

The meeting quickly turned into a heated question-and-answer session in a rapid volley between the students and assembled officials.

For most of the meeting, dozens of students’ hands were in the air hoping for an opportunity to weigh in.

One of the students, Weinberg senior Reed Wilson, called the tenor of the debate “ludicrous” and expressed frustration with the officials’ stance at the meeting.

“It’s ridiculous that we’re sitting in this room thinking that this law going into effect right now is not going to affect any of us here, and that everyone’s going to be fine,” he said. At one point during the meeting, more than 40 students were raising their hands to ask questions.

At another point, Murphy met with hostility when he said many other towns throughout the country have similar housing ordinances.

“It doesn’t make it right,” a student shouted, a pronouncement met with robust applause and cheers.

Burns eventually asked students to “take it down a notch.”

“Yelling and screaming, we’re not going to accomplish anything by that,” she said.

The University is “scrambling” to try and solve the problem, Burns said. Murphy directed students to City Council.

“Make your voices heard,” he said. “That’s all I can really say.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Burns said she would inform city officials on Wednesday of the overwhelming student opposition to the ordinance.

“You guys are all making some really good points,” Burns said. “I will tell the city that the students don’t want this. We are your voice. We’re working on it.”

Howard said the administration will make clear to city officials what transpired at the town hall meeting while trying to work toward a favorable solution for students. There are certain limitations, he said.

“There’s a give and take, and this is a long haul in terms of what we are trying to accomplish,” Howard said after the meeting. “My title is not the Dean of Neighbors. It’s not the Dean of Evanston.”

During the forum, Weinberg junior Taylor Barrett read aloud responses from Evanston officials she received after e-mailing them Tuesday to “respectfully express her unease” about the ordinance. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl apparently responded by suggesting students ask the administration to change NU’s alcohol policy.

“Perhaps you might consider talking with the NU administration about allowing drinking on campus,” she wrote. “Then all partying would not have to take place in the neighborhoods.”

It is unlikely the administration will take Tisdahl’s suggestion seriously.

After the meeting, senior Jonathan Webster said the future of student life at NU is in jeopardy.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness we’re all feeling,” the Communication student said. “This is the most radical change the university will see in years.”

Lark Turner contributed reporting.

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Following town hall, NU to discuss ‘brothel law’ with city