October 27, 2009
Oswego, Ithaca try town-gown measures
Housing fair, councils and community efforts mark other colleges’ attempts at improving relations
The problems between students and residents in mixed neighborhoods around SUNY Cortland are familiar to officials at other colleges, who have tried their own solutions.
Oswego’s mayor sponsors the City-Campus Relations Committee, which gives awards to SUNY Oswego student groups who help the community, and recently held a campus Housing Fair for students who might move off-campus next year.
Ithaca’s mixed neighborhoods — Collegetown next to Cornell University and South Hill below Ithaca College — have sought ways to increase dialogue between students and residents.
Robberies in September raised concerns about crime in the college hill area around the college, and residents of that neighborhood and other streets alongside campus have expressed their frustrations with student behavior this fall.
An old issue, the complicated relationship between students and year-round residents led to long discussions at a forum last week among officials of SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College, city police and residents. The meetings will continue over the next few months, as all parties seek solutions.
One suggestion was to have student representation on the Hill Association, an organization for residents. Jesse Campanaro, Student Government Association president at SUNY Cortland, said he would be glad to recruit students for that.
Richard Hughes, SUNY Oswego’s director of campus life, said the college’s housing fair allowed landlords to talk to students about their rental houses. City firefighters discussed fire safety. A city code enforcement officer told students what to look for.
“The committee started this four years ago, and now the student government runs it,” Hughes said Monday. “The Student Assembly has a student who works with off-campus issues. There has also been a student representative to the Common Council, off and on.”
The college has also held days in the autumn when students and year-round residents can mingle. A similar idea was discussed in last week’s forum in Cortland.
Pleasant Street resident Katy Silliman said she plans to pursue that idea. Lincoln Avenue resident Ann Doyle said the Lincoln-Maple Area Association, a similar group that is now inactive, used to have students as members.
Silliman said at the forum she is also interested in creating radio spots on SUNY Cortland’s student radio station, to promote the idea that students are living near and walking through streets of people who value their sleep and do not like finding students urinating in their yards.
Silliman said she wants students to write the radio spots so they sound legitimate.
Hughes and Michael Paestella, director of student leadership, said the turnout at fall neighborhood meetings has been sparse, as it is difficult to communicate with everyone. Paestella said some residents will not come out of their houses to meet students.
“We encourage students to know their neighbors, let residents know when an event (party) is being planned,” Paestella said. “It can’t hurt.”
Paestella said he and his wife, Missy, used to live in a mixed neighborhood, and always tried to know student neighbors. It helped that both worked in student affairs.
He said they moved after a student rental was sold to a landlord who turned it into low-income housing. Their new neighbors made them uneasy.
He said a housing complex is being built near campus by College Suites, which built two housing projects in Cortlandville that opened this fall. SUNY Oswego is also building a complex of its own.
Paestella expects a situation similar to Cortland’s, with new housing causing competition with landlords who own student houses.
“There will be 700 to 800 new beds next fall, so we don’t know what will happen,” he said.
Cornell University has the Collegetown Neighborhood Council, composed of university officials, residents and students. Sponsored by Cornell’s Office of Community Relations, the group meets monthly to review any issues affecting the neighborhood.
“It doesn’t have an official membership and doesn’t vote on anything,” said Gary Stewart, deputy director of community relations. “It used to be managed by the city but it went downhill — having it takes some focus.”
Stewart said students must be involved in any such community group.
“You have to make a concerted effort to drag students into the mix,” he said Monday. “You have to give them a sense of the people who live here. Our council will not work if students are not involved, you’d just have townies talking to themselves.”
Cornell students have been helped by their own voting power, electing students to one or both Common Council seats from the Collegetown ward for the past six years. Svante Myrick, who graduated in May, is in the second year of a four-year term. Senior Eddie Rooker is unopposed for the other seat this fall.
The Tompkins County legislator for that ward also has been a Cornell student in recent years.
Ithaca College works with the South Hill Civic Association, a residents’ group.
Stewart emphasizes that stereotyping students does no good.
“We have 20,000 of them at Cornell, from age 16 to age 40,” he said. “You can’t make general statements.”
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