OSWEGO, NY – A little communication can go along way in quelling quality of life issues regarding “problems” caused by college students in neighborhoods.
At a special meeting Monday night, facilitated by Third Ward Councilor Nate Emmons, college and city officials gathered to discuss college-community relations.
About a dozen residents and a handful of city employees attended the meeting. The panel consisted of five representatives from the college (including the chair of the City-College Relations Committee) and city and two council members. Emmons served as MC for the evening.
“We are all here a part of the same community, whether you work at the college, live at the college, live on West Eighth Street – tonight it doesn’t matter,” Emmons noted. “We are all part of the city of Oswego. Every so often, we as a community need to come together and have conversations like these about how you improve relationships.”
Every few years, people get new neighbors, that is especially true when you’re talking about off-campus college students, he said.
The meeting was intended to be educational, the councilor pointed out, adding that it “isn’t an us vs. them sort of conversation.”
“By and large, most college students are good neighbors,” Council Vice President and panelist John Gosek said.
The panel also included Chief Tory DeCaire of OPD and Chief John Rossi of the University Police at SUNY Oswego.
DeCaire told how, working in collaboration with Chief Rossi, officers have visited off-campus students. He described the meetings as “Hi, how are you? This is who we are and here’s what we expect from you.”
“I think that has had a very positive impact,” he said.
They also have had round-table discussions with students.
OPD conducts expanded Quality of Life patrols through the academic year. They are typically on Friday and Saturday nights, he explained.
The students’ code of conduct manual has been expanded to include off-campus behavior, Chief Rossi said.
“So now they can be held liable for anything that happens off-campus. I have gotten reports from California, Colorado, Florida and Virginia of our students getting into trouble in these places,” he said. “Of those students, I can say, none have been repeat offenders. That is a big change from about four or five years ago, where the same names kept popping up over and over.”
Wherever a student gets arrested, they stand the chance of going to a real jail, he added.
“There isn’t just a college jail ward in our county jail. They will go in with the other inmates at the time,” he said. “I get a lot of wide-open eyes when I relay that information.”
Last (school) year there were 25 students expelled for bad behavior, according to the chief.
When the college department’s officers come to Oswego to assist with things like Harborfest, the city isn’t charged, Chief Rossi said. He takes it out of his budget “because it is the right thing to do.”
In years past, there were a lot of arrests due to the Bridge Street Run (and end of the year pub crawl, which isn’t sanctioned by the college) – most of those arrests were not students, they were people coming up to visit students, Chief Rossi said.
The implementation of a large festival (Oz Fest) and concerts on campus has now greatly reduced incidents related to the BSR, he added.
Everywhere they are, (students) represent SUNY Oswego, said Dr. Jerri D. Howland, of the Department of Student Affairs and Enrollment at SUNY Oswego.
The college offers various program about being responsible, being a good neighbor, she said.
The programs are an educational opportunity for the students. Her office continues to communicate with the students about behavior – not just to be good students, but to be good citizens, leaders, after they graduate, she said.
City resident Miles Becker, a SUNY Oswego graduate, said he talks to the students who live around him.
“I talk with these kids all the time. That’s what they need,” he said. “With some communication from the neighbors, maybe we can all get along.”
“The students are members of this community. We’re all part of the same community,” city resident Bruce Holman said. “What we have to learn is to accept everybody and realize that we are all part of this city. We need to be a little more tolerant, I think, of what goes on. Years ago, we probably had the same attitude; it’s a learning experience.”
He added that people from the city should go to campus and interact – “let them know we are not their enemy,” he added.
College students have performed many community service projects in the city, he said, adding there should be more publicity of these events.
Sue Sweet explained how her corner of Oswego has changed over the years. What was once owner-occupied homes has now become mostly student housing, she said.
A few years ago, she had a big cookout and invited her student neighbors.
“Maybe if they look you in the face, they’ll be a little bit nicer at night,” she said. “That worked for a while.”
She said she realizes that kids will be kids. But she would like to see “more attention paid to the fact that we do have these situations that put kids in danger,” especially at the end of the school year when a lot of parties occur.
Emmons said more workshops will be planned to keep the lines of communication open with the college.