A Civic Project series: Town-gown relations wearing thin
By Rachel Jones
INDIANA — Ryan C. Murphy, a fifth-year senior exercise-science major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, lives in a residential neighborhood off campus near Stright Hall. He says he rarely talks to his older, year-round-resident neighbors, and a lot of other students don’t either.
“Many of the students keep to themselves, and the residents do the same thing,” Murphy said in a Nov. 7 interview at Folger Food Court.
Increasingly, however, such unfamiliarity is breeding contempt, particularly among voters in neighborhoods near the IUP campus.
In the Nov. 5 borough election, a 3rdWard incumbent member of council won re-election following a campaign that focused on what local news media described as student rowdiness during annual Homecoming festivities a month earlier. Council President Nancy Jones beat IUP senior Tara Federoff, who mounted an unsuccessful write-in campaign to elect a student to the borough’s governing body.
Jones campaigned against college-student misbehavior. But she acknowledged that misbehaving students are a minority.
“Our residents have said that 95 percent of the IUP students are wonderful,” Jones said in an Oct. 13 interview at a coffee shop near campus. “It’s the 5 percent that give IUP students a bad image.”
IUP President Michael A. Driscoll said the percentage is even smaller.
“Much less than 1 percent are engaged in illegal activities or activities that become problematic,” he said in a Nov. 18 interview in his Sutton Hall office.
Neither Jones nor Driscoll provided documentation to support their estimates.
IUP honors student Emily J. Weber, a campus-writing-center tutor and manager, English and journalism double major, and staff writer for The Indiana Gazette, made a similar point from a student perspective – that the university’s roughly 15,000 students cannot be judged by Homecoming alone.
“A lot of conclusions were drawn from Homecoming, and you can’t do that,” Weber said in a Nov. 7 interview in Stapleton Library. “You can’t assume that all the students are like that and that all students party. If you don’t really party, you sort of just get lumped in anyway with everyone else.”
Murphy, the fifth-year senior exercise-science major who lives off campus near Stright Hall, agreed.
“Yes, we’re a party school,” he said. “But not everybody goes out.”
BOROUGH OFFICIALS, downtown merchants and university administrators all encourage IUP students to be good neighbors.
The borough’s website reads: “Students are expected to be good citizens of the borough and the university.” The site also displays provisions of ordinances against loud noise, alcohol violations, disorderly conduct and other borough offenses.
The IUP Office of Housing, Residential Living and Dining sets goals for students to “contribute to and respect established community standards.”
The Indiana Community University Collaborative, an informal group of campus and community representatives, aims to educate students “regarding community expectations for off-campus conduct and increased sensitivity to residents’ concerns.”
A Good Neighbor Guide, a collaboration of downtown merchants, university administrators and borough officials, advises off-campus students how “to make their off-campus home the best it can be for them and their neighbors.”
The first priority: Reduce the noise, which the guide describes as “the most common complaint.”
A description provided by the Good Neighbor Guide describes the borough noise ordinance as “any noise that can be heard 50 feet from its origination, and is plainly audible by a person using his/her faculties, at a distance of 2,000 feet or more from the real property line of the source of the sound or noise.”
Noise, however, is in the ear of the beholder.
“It is a challenging thing to quantify,” said Michelle S. Fryling, IUP executive director of communications and media relations, in a Nov. 13 interview in her Sutton Hall office.
NOT FOR Bianca Kerin, 40, a resident of School Street on the IUP campus’ northern boundary: Noisy students keep her awake at night.
“At 1 o’ clock in the morning, they are screaming, and you wake up because it’s really loud,” she said in a Nov. 17 interview at a local restaurant. “They don’t have respect for anybody else.”
Despite such complaints, borough Police Chief William C. Sutton reports that police have made only seven noise-violation arrests during Homecoming festivities since 2005.
But total arrests recorded by borough police during Homecoming weekends have risen during the past decade, according to Sutton. During Homecoming 2003, police reported a total of 104 arrests; during Homecoming 2013, police reported 156 arrests, an increase of 50 percent.
IUP President Driscoll said plans to strengthen collaboration with the borough are among his 14 Key Goals for 2013. (No. 14: “Work hard and have fun.”)
“Part of the goal locally is to be more engaged and visible,” Driscoll said in a Nov. 18 interview in his Sutton Hall office. “I have started working to personally be out and engaged in community activities and events.”
In a Nov. 18 interview in his Sutton Hall office, IUP President Michael A. Driscoll says 1 percent of IUP students created problems during Homecoming 2013. Video by Rachel Jones.
Students who violate the university’s conduct policies are held accountable, Driscoll added.
“We do take seriously any conduct violations that come to our attention,” Driscoll said. “We suspend students, we evict them from campus housing, require them to go to treatment or educational programs.”
However, campus administrators provided no data to document student conduct violations and punishments. A predecessor, IUP President Tony Atwater, tried in vain to deter student drinking problems with stiffer university sanctions.
SUGGESTIONS for mending frayed town-gown relations come from students, residents, borough officials and campus administrators.
Student Katy A. Peles, a junior mathematics-education major who lives off campus on Wayne Avenue, said the community should host events to encourage interaction between residents and students.
“Community places could hold events for students to reach out,” she said in a Nov. 14 interview in the Hadley Union Building. “Some churches adopt freshmen and invite them over for a meal. Also, community service projects.”
University administrators agreed.
“Everybody has stereotypes,” Driscoll said in the Nov. 18 interview in his Sutton Hall office. “The solution is being together and building relationships, talking and working together.”
IUP spokeswoman Fryling echoed Driscoll.
“When you get to know people, that’s what explodes those stereotypes,” she said in a Nov. 13 interview in her Sutton Hall office. “That’s what builds good relationships.”
Honors student Weber said IUP administrators are off to a good start but could do more.
“I don’t know that they have seriously addressed this issue in a comprehensive, university-wide way,” Weber said in a Nov. 7 interview in Stapleton Library. “There are people that really do care and are trying to address it. But it’s not on everyone’s radar yet.”
Borough police Chief Sutton said the issue is on his radar, but resources are limited.
“The police are not against students,” Sutton said in an Oct. 29 interview. “In a perfect world, they’d get to know the students better. But we don’t have the time or manpower.”
School Street resident Kerin said the solution is simple.
“It would be better if the students showed a little bit of respect,” she said.
Rachel Jones, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Derry.
Sidebar: Fast Facts: IUP Homecoming trends
The following data reflect IUP Homecoming weekends from 2003-2013, as recoded by Indiana borough Police Chief William Sutton to the borough Council in annual reports. The following table focuses on alcohol-related violations.
Arrests, IUP Homecoming, 2003,2013
2003 2013 % +/-
Public Drunkenness 31 49 +58%
Underage Drinking 25 31 +24%
Disorderly Conduct 27 14 -48%
Totals 83 94 +13%
Source: Indiana borough police arrest records
Sidebar: For More Information
For more information about this story, or to get involved, contact the following sources:
Indiana Borough Police Department
William C. Sutton
80 North 8th St.
Indiana, Pa 15701
Phone: (724) 349 – 2121
Indiana Borough Council
80 North 8th St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: 724 – 465 – 6691
Fax: 724 – 463 – 4177
IUP Office of the President
Michael A. Driscoll, Ph.D.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Sutton Hall, Room 201
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724 – 357 – 2200
Fax: 724 – 357 – 3060
IUP Office of Communications and Marketing
Michelle S. Fryling
Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations
Sutton Hall, Room 314
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724 – 357 – 3062
IUP Student Government Association
Address: 212A Hadley Union Building
Phone: 724 – 357 – 7902