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Alcohol policy, student body growth may alter College Hill dynamics

Community members, students question if recent policy change will drive parties off campus

The off-campus house where Christine Mullen ’16 and David Weinberger ’16 live was packed with over 100 people Feb. 14. They were hosting a party that overflowed from the building, with people gathering outside the house and in the street in front of it, Weinberger said.

The party was advertised via a Facebook event, which was eventually posted in the Class of 2017’s Facebook group, leading the party to grow much larger than anticipated, Weinberger said. Still, “We had no real problems,” he added, noting that the windows were closed, keeping much of the noise inside.

The closed windows, the students said, may have kept them from repeating an unpleasant police encounter that occurred last summer. Just after midnight, the Providence Police Department responded to a noise complaint at the same building — this time in response to an event of about 50 people.

Mullen contested a $200 fine, which was ultimately reduced to $50, resulting from the complaint. In court, Mullen noted that her neighbor, who presumably contacted the Providence Police, had previously complained about the disruption caused by college-aged neighbors ­and had made frequent calls to the police.

“Obviously when (the neighbor) calls, the police are obligated to come and see what’s happening,” Weinberger added. They have not had issues with their neighbor since this incident, Mullen said.

Mullen and Weinberger are part of an increasingly large contingent of upperclassmen who live off campus. Around 1,300 students live off campus every year, said Richard Bova, senior associate dean for Residential Life and Dining Services.

The Office of Residential Life is responsible for granting off-campus permission and having discussions with students who have conflict with their neighbors, but problems are rare between students and other residents of College Hill, Bova said.

Diffusing tensions

Kate Tompkins, associate director for off-campus living and programs, said that ResLife will “have conversations with students if there are issues with noise ordinances” or other city laws. “We need to make sure they’re abiding by (these laws) to make sure our relationship with the community — the permanent community — stays strong.”

These conversations do not occur frequently, she said, adding that students are more likely to have issues adjusting to living in the neighborhood when they first move in.

ResLife’s primary goal is to support students, Bova said, but the office becomes directly involved in the affairs of students living off campus when they are contacted by police or through a direct complaint. Students are then brought in for a discussion with Tompkins. “We don’t immediately rush to judgment on anyone. We have lots of good dialogue with students about living off campus and how they should be behaving,” Bova said.

“I think the vast majority of students off campus are very mature and very capable of handling themselves in a decent and respectful way and they’re respectful of their neighborhoods,” he said. “We do have problems with a handful. But that’s to be expected in any population.”

Though administrators stressed that these problems are uncommon, some community members have expressed concerns that the University’s interim alcohol policies and the growth of the student population living off campus may exacerbate disruptive behavior in the neighborhoods surrounding Brown.

Enraged about ragers

The impact of students living in the College Hill neighborhood has become a topic of increased discussion in recent weeks following the University’s Jan. 19 announcement that it will prohibit alcohol service at large-scale events in residence halls. The ban is part of a set of interim rules that will govern social events while the University determines its new permanent policy on alcohol, according to multiple campus-wide emails.

The University notified College Hill residents of the interim policies in a Jan. 29 email, the Providence Journal reported. The email contained contact information for representatives from the Office of Government and Community Affairs and ResLife.

The temporary policies ignited frustration among several residents.

Ronald Dwight ’66, a 15-year College Hill resident who formerly served on the board of directors of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, said the community is concerned that the prohibition of parties with alcohol service in residence halls will force parties off University property and into neighborhood homes and backyards.

A Facebook community page called “Protect College Hill” appeared Jan. 31, presumably in response to the announcement. The group, which uses a crossed-out Solo cup as its logo, has garnered 52 followers. Its prominently displayed motto reads, “No ragers in our neighborhood.”

“I think that people who are 21 should be able to drink in a responsible manner at Brown … and not be forced off campus to do those things,” Dwight said.

Dwight, who lives at the corner of Benefit and South Court Streets, said that in his experience, Brown students can be particularly disruptive to their neighbors, more so than their counterparts at RISD. “They’re more into this heavy partying — raging, it’s called,” he said. “They just can’t wait to get off campus and have these wild parties.”

Heading off campus

ResLife granted 1,163 rising seniors and 324 rising juniors off-campus permission for the upcoming academic year, Bova told The Herald earlier this month.

Around 100 students also rent properties that are owned and managed by the University through its auxiliary housing system. These properties, which are mostly concentrated on the southern side of campus, are not officially considered to be off campus, Bova said.

Though President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan calls for an annual 1 percent expansion of the undergraduate student body over the next decade, ResLife has not announced plans to expand residence hall accommodations on campus. ResLife will grant more students off-campus permission to account for this change, Bova previously told the Herald.

Dwight said that the presence of Brown students has been felt more intensely over the last five to eight years, adding that he perceives the affluence of the student body has increased, leading to more students living in posh residences off campus. He expects this to intensify as enrollment grows and residential capacity does not, he said.

“Their parents buy these big mansions, and they party in them,” he said. “They ruin them, and then they sell them and go off.” This phenomenon detracts from the value of other property in the neighborhood, he said, adding that the prevalence of increasingly crowded rental properties is “going to ruin Providence.”

Not all community members view the policies in such a negative light. Stephen Foley ’74 P’04 P’07, associate professor of English and comparative literature, lives on Cushing Street near Machado House and has lived on college campuses his entire life. He said that the nearby French and Spanish houses have not been disruptive in his experience.  He noted that he observes more activity from students in the spring and summer, when he has his windows open.

Foley said he has not noticed any increase in disruptive student conduct in his neighborhood over the last several months. He said it is difficult to predict what the effect of the interim alcohol policies on off-campus parties will be and to imagine how the policies will be enforced.

All in the neighborhood

“I don’t want to come off like I think the administration’s doing something wrong,” Mullen said. “I just think that they don’t really have it figured out yet, and they’re going to try different things to make our campus safer,” she said.

Mullen, who is a member of the Undergraduate Council of Students and a student representative on the Alcohol and Other Drugs subcommittee of the Campus Life Advisory Board, said the administration has communicated its reasoning in regards to the interim policy to UCS.

Bova told The Herald he is aware of concern from community members that the interim policy will push parties off campus, but he said he feels there is a lot of “misinformation” about the policy’s impact. “It does not work like that. We know that,” he said, adding that there has been no uptick in reported “egregious policy violations.”

“We are concerned about the welfare of the Brown University student. That does not mean we are not cognizant that 1,300 of our students live in a community,” Bova said. “Community relationships are very important to us also.”

The Department of Public Safety declined to comment for this story and it is the stated policy of the Providence Police Department to only verify noise complaint records for single addresses, not entire neighborhoods. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if there has been any rise in noise complaints in neighborhoods surrounding campus in recent weeks.

Dwight said the University’s failure to involve the neighborhood in developing the interim alcohol policy is part of a larger problem: The University has a legacy of ignoring the concerns of its neighbors as it constructs policies that may affect them.

Dwight, who had previously taken the University to court over the development of the BioMedical Center on Meeting Street, said administrators should have met with the College Hill Neighborhood Association to discuss the policy. “Brown never does that. Brown is extremely arrogant towards the community,” he said.

The Office of Government Relations and Community Affairs has taken steps to include community members in discussions of the new policy, wrote Mark Nickel, interim director of news and communications, in an email to The Herald. In addition to sending the letter describing the change, Katie Silberman ’94, the University’s community liaison also addressed the policy in a “neighbors meeting about the new Applied Mathematics building,” Nickel wrote. “She summarized the University’s plans for policy review, and the reaction was quite positive.”

Nickel added that the Office of Government Relations and Community Affairs has received fewer than six calls about the policy. “Callers have appreciated getting a response to questions and have been generally supportive of the University’s policy review,” he wrote.



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