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The Sophia Charter launched to enhance student safety and well-being in North Dunedin

Thursday 30 July 2020 9:09am

A multi-agency agreement, that includes the University of Otago, Police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Otago Property Investors Association, the Dunedin City Council (DCC) and the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA), has led to the launch today of The Sophia Charter, designed to enhance the safety and well-being of the student community in North Dunedin.

Sophia at her Nana's image
Sophia at her Nana's.

The Sophia Charter stems from the Crestani family’s shared goal to ensure there will be improvements to student safety and well-being following the tragic death of their daughter Sophia at a flat party in North Dunedin in 2019. Following the tragedy, the stakeholders came together, renewing their resolution to support students to reduce harm and to increase well-being.

"Sophia’s death has been a tragic loss for us, her family, friends, community and the University of Otago community. It is a loss that can never be rationalised, justified or forgotten. We want some good to come out of this, and by working with the students and support organisations, we hope to keep other students safe, so that they go home to their families and mature into caring, generous adults and have full lives. Some courageous decisions have been made since Sophia died and we are here to support and endorse this new way forward,” explain Sophia’s parents Elspeth McMillan and Bede Crestani.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Harlene Hayne, says “The University is grateful for the immense courage of Sophia’s parents Elspeth and Bede. From the very beginning, they have been clear that their goal is to help us make our vibrant student community safer. It has been a privilege to walk alongside them and we look forward to honouring Sophia’s memory through positive community action.”

The Sophia Charter for Community Responsibility and Well-being’s ultimate goal is to provide a “circle of support” to ensure North Dunedin becomes a stronger student neighbourhood where residents take responsibility for themselves, each other and the wider community.

Measures enabled by The Charter and the accompanying agreement between agencies are:

  • That the DCC works with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to ensure the Healthy Homes Standards are promoted, actioned and enforced; and that the Otago Property Investors Association works with Landlords to promote the Healthy Homes Standards and encourage a higher standard wherever feasible.
  • That the Police continue to work with the University to establish a clear set of working principles regarding large parties and gatherings.
  • That an enduring senior working group comprised of all stakeholders meet annually to report on progress and discuss any further initiatives that would enhance student safety and well-being.
  • That the University continues to work with Government and the DCC on changes that will reduce alcohol-related harm.
  • The University continues to enforce the University’s Code of Student Conduct.
  • The University works with OUSA on opportunities to use the Starters Bar in North Dunedin and other venues to support student social activity.
  • The University works with Residential Colleges and Otago property investors to provide comprehensive information towards safe and responsible flatting.
  • The DCC fosters a reduction of rubbish in the area by enhancing opportunities for recycling and increasing rubbish collection.
  • In cases of illegal activity, Police will ensure that students and non-students are dealt with appropriately in a manner that maintains public safety and aligns with the Policing Act 2008. The trust and confidence in Police is also underpinned by a Campus Constable assigned full time to the University of Otago.
  • OUSA to continue to work with the Police to enhance the “Good One” party register.
  • OUSA develops campaigns regarding flat-related issues including sustainability, safety, health and well-being.
  • OUSA participate in a North Dunedin Community meeting that outlines our shared values and culture and the support services that are available to students.
  • That Fire and Emergency services work with the DCC, OUSA and the Proctor’s Office to educate students about flat safety and party size.
  • The Otago Property Investors Association works with landlords to encourage “good neighbour” behaviour by tenants.

Comments from stakeholders:

Otago University Students’ Association

“Sophia Crestani’s tragic death was a devastating blow for the student community. The Sophia Charter reflects a commitment from our community to grow from this experience, and ensure that Otago is an environment that is supportive, inclusive, and safe. It is my hope that the Sophia Charter is something that all stakeholders and community members can feel a sense of ownership of, and shall result in a continuous and collaborative effort to foster the well-being of the North Dunedin community,” says Jack Manning, OUSA President.

Dunedin City Council

Mayor Aaron Hawkins says the Dunedin City Council is proud to partner with the University of Otago and other city stakeholders in signing The Charter.

“The University of Otago has been integral part of Dunedin for over 150 years. The depth of that ‘Town and Gown’ relationship means that as well sharing in each other’s successes, we are also united in times of grief and adversity.

“My hope is that The Sophia Charter helps to further enhance the physical and social environment for students, so they feel safe and supported during such an important time in their lives” he says.

NZ Police

Through the launch of Sophia Charter Dunedin Police would like to reiterate our commitment to building a safer environment for the students and wider community.

This tragic event has been a catalyst in bringing various communities and businesses across Dunedin together, all focused on bringing a positive change.

Our role is to ensure we continue our work with the University and the community to minimise harm and ensure that any incident is dealt with appropriately in a manner that maintains public safety.

Police intend to work together with everyone, especially young people, and support them to achieve their full potential to learn and contribute to their communities.

Whether students are studying in their hometown or they have moved away from home, we want them to remember that Police are always here to help if they have concerns about their safety or someone else’s.

Superintendent Paul Basham//Southern District Commander

Otago Property Investors Association

The Otago property investors association is honored to be part of the charter for change. We first and foremost will be working with our members to ensure that all rental properties are up to the Healthy homes standards and will be actively encouraging our members to go above and beyond these set minimum standards for rentals.

We hope we can make the Crestani family proud and the memory of Sophia lives on in the amazing change that we can all bring to the student body of Otago by working together as one.

Fire and Emergency NZ

If people are our greatest treasure (He Tangata) in Aotearoa, then this commitment allows us to strengthen our relationships and collective efforts in supporting the safety, well-being and resilience of our student community.

We want to see the minds and mana of our students grow while they are here with us in Dunedin. We want to see an increase in connectedness (whanaungatanga), where students feel they can access our services and all other services that support their well-being (manaakitanga). This is why The Sophia Charter is important to Fire and Emergency NZ.

The types of changes we would like to see over the coming years, is the reinforcement of a student community culture that promotes vibrancy and fun, but in a way that reduces the risk of harm and suffering among our student community.

We are committed to The Sophia Charter and the aspirations it sets out and would like to especially acknowledge the Crestani family.

Sophia Crestani Scholarship

A scholarship in Sophia’s name has also been established by the family for a female second-year student studying Mathematics and/or Statistics. Sophia demonstrated her innate ability in mathematics at an early age, winning the St Benedict’s School Mathematics Cup and an academic scholarship to Queen Margaret College.

The Sophia Michelle McMillan Crestani Scholarship will normally have a value of $4,500 for living costs and will be held for the equivalent of one full-time year. The selection panel will include a representative of the Crestani family and the factors considered in awarding the scholarship will be a demonstrated focus on being community minded and exhibiting community involvement, and financial need due to personal circumstances.

For more information, contact:

Mark Hathaway
Senior Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 5016