A Civic Project series: Town-gown relations wearing thin
By Caitlin Birch and Angela Lupinetti
INDIANA – When John and Lisa Avolio moved to South Seventh Street near the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus 27 years ago, all their neighbors were families. Now, only five of their neighbors’ homes are single-family residences. The rest are occupied by college students.
“Three of my neighbors are widows,” said Lisa during an Oct. 10 telephone interview. “It’s hard for them, especially during Homecoming. They’re afraid.”
Ditto for the Avolios’ 5-year-old granddaughter, who is scared in her own home, Lisa said.
During Homecoming weekend — Friday, Oct. 3, through Sunday, Oct. 5 — she said college-student behavior varied widely.
“Some students blatantly have no respect for the neighborhood,” Lisa said. “Others are apologizing for other students.”
DANIEL A. BURKETT, dean’s associate for the IUP College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, lives across from the Giant Eagle Express grocery store and behind a row of student rentals on Wayne Avenue. Five families occupy homes on his block near campus. But convenience has its costs.
“I would say the biggest two are the noise and the trash,” Burkett said in an Oct. 11 email interview. “Students don’t keep the same schedule as most working people, especially on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.”
Loud music isn’t the noise problem, Burkett said. It is the yelling and laughing among clots of college students walking to and from house parties or neighborhood merchants, he said.
“I don’t think it’s so much a function of age as it is of alcohol,” he said. “People just don’t realize how loud they are being at midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and later. I can hear entire conversations with my windows closed.”
Trash is another concern for Burkett.
“At the end of Homecoming weekend, I filled up a kitchen trash bag with them,” he said.
During Homecoming, Burkett flees his home, he said, acknowledging his good fortune to have another place to go to avoid the noise.
“We all can put up with an occasional party at one house or one loud person walking down the street,” he said. “With Homecoming, though, it’s everywhere. You can’t get away from the loud party, the loud crowds or the trash in your yard unless you leave, which is what I do.”
Burkett said alcohol is a trigger. He said it’s usually his student neighbors’ friends or party-goers who start drinking and lose self-awareness.
“When they don’t think of the place as their home or their neighborhood, they don’t respect it,” Burkett said.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT miscreant students reflected a rising tide of criticism last fall. It swelled during IUP’s early-October Homecoming festivities and crested in the Nov. 5 borough council election. Some citizen complaints expressed generalized fear. But some student behavior is quantifiable.
For example, alcohol-related police citations issued in June, when most students are on summer break, are substantially lower than the number issued in October, the month of Homecoming weekend — and of Halloween.
Moreover, citations issued during Homecoming weekends have grown during the past decade, according to borough Police Chief William Sutton. During Homecoming 2003, police made 31 arrests for public drunkenness; during the 2013 weekend, police made 49 arrests, an increase of 48 percent.
Figures for underage drinking also rose. In 2003, police issued 25 citations/arrests; in 2013, police issued 31 citations, an increase of 24 percent.
University enrollment increases alone cannot explain increases in police citations. In fall 2003, 13,868 students were enrolled, according to IUP data; in fall 2013, 14,728 were enrolled, an increase of 6 percent.
AMONG FEARFUL and angry residents was borough Council President Nancy Jones, who ran for re-election on the Nov. 5 ballot, a month after Homecoming weekend 2013. Jones, a 27-year resident of the 400 block of Fisher Avenue near the IUP campus, was prominently quoted in local news coverage of what was described as the weekend’s “rowdiness.”
Jones recounted instances of students urinating and vomiting in her front yard during Homecoming parties on her block.
“I’m living the nightmare,” Jones told The Indiana Gazette in its Oct. 10 edition, a few weeks before the election. “Every year our costs for this escalate. Residents are held prisoners in their homes. This has got to stop. I don’t want to let students take over the borough.”
Jones elaborated after the election in a Nov. 21 interview at a coffee shop near the campus and her home.
Indiana borough Council President Nancy Jones, Nov. 21, 2013. Video by Caitlin Birch.
When she first moved in, Jones said, one student rental occupied the end of her street, and the residential neighborhood was relatively quiet. Then, a developer bought five houses across the street from Jones.
“That just pretty much did it,” Jones said. “One side of the street is college housing, and the other side are all residents.”
Every year for the past three years, students living across the street from Jones have hosted a Homecoming party, she said. An orange fence goes up around the house at 11 a.m. Saturday, kids come around noon, and they party for the afternoon until the fence comes down around 5-6 p.m.
“This year was unbelievable,” she said. “I mean, hundreds of kids just kept coming.”
Jones said she felt like a prisoner in her home.
“There was no way I could back my car out of the garage because there were students everywhere,” Jones said. “They weren’t moving.”
Someone needs to be held accountable, Jones said.
JONES FACED an election challenge from write-in candidate Taralyn E. Federoff, a senior at IUP, who ran against the incumbent to represent students.
“I wanted to run to show that the students have many positive qualities to share with the community, if we were given a chance,” Federoff said in a Nov. 11 phone interview.
Federoff said it is easy to focus on the bad and to ignore the good that students do in the community.
“If the university wasn’t here, Indiana would more resemble a truck stop along Route 422 rather than the blossoming community it is today,” Federoff said.
But the university’s economic impact is secondary to the diversity that students bring to the community, she said.
THE CAMPAIGN between Jones and Federoff presented 3rd Ward voters with a referendum on IUP student conduct. Voters sided with Jones. She won re-election to her seat with 168 votes, according to unofficial results. Federoff fell short, with 104 votes.
Following her re-election, Jones proposed steps to address problems before the university’s next big party weekend in spring 2014.
Jones said she would like to see landlords help implement rules to set maximum numbers of guests permitted in rental properties. Such rules would give students reason to kick out unwanted guests, resulting in smaller crowds and less chaos.
She added that some landlords already include such rules in their leases. She said she has seen fewer problems with those dwellings.
Jones said IUP students once attended borough council meetings to represent the students’ perspectives. She encouraged students to have a voice by attending more meetings and developing partnerships between borough residents and the university.
“We want those kids who live off campus to feel safe and be safe in the community,” Jones said.
The test may come during IUP’s next big party weekend – IUPatty’s Day, which usually coincides with the weekend before spring break in March.
Caitlin Birch, a junior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Homer City.
Angela Lupinetti, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Indiana, Pa.
Sidebar: Fast facts — crime stats
Following are police charges recorded in the months of June and October in the years 2008 through 2013, as reported by Indiana Borough Police to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report System. The number of charges and violations in 2013 are not official until the year ends.
Indiana Borough alcohol violations
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
June 14 30 17 18 13 7
October 79 56 70 82 63 67
Source: Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report System
Sidebar: For more info
For more information about this story, or to get involved in this issues, contact the following sources:
80 N. Eighth St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: (724) 465 – 6691
Fax: (724) 463 – 4177
Indiana Borough Council President
Click here for calendar of upcoming Borough Council meetings
Indiana Borough Police
William C. Sutton
80 N. Eighth St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: (724) 349 – 2121