Editorial: Taking back their town
KEVIN GUTTING University of Massachusetts police officer Tom O'Donnell looks over an unfolded "table tent" card created by the Amherst Regional Middle School science club for their campaign "We Live Here Too." The cards were placed in a UMass dining common. Purchase photo reprints »
The growing resentment in Amherst neighborhoods about noise, trash and drunken displays attributed to college students who rent homes there has not gone unnoticed by younger members of the community.
Amherst Regional Middle School students were so moved by the matter that they took it upon themselves to develop a social science project called “We Live Here Too.”
Through a website, a short video and printed material distributed in a University of Massachusetts dining hall, the seventh-graders are hoping they can persuade the older students to have more respect for their neighbors and scale down their disruptive partying on weekends.
It is great to see these young teens make an effort to effect change in their town. After all, they have a stake in protecting the quality of life in Amherst. Taking on the task of altering the behavior of college students who choose alcohol-fueled socializing in their idle hours is a tall order, to be sure. The community’s adults have been trying to do that for years and the problem just seems to be getting worse. It’s admirable that the kids want to tackle it. And it’s also good for them to see how much angst irresponsible behavior causes. Maybe they will remember this when they make choices about how to spend their weekend nights when they head off to college.
The middle schoolers talk about the discarded beer cups and bottles they see littering lawns and playgrounds near UMass. They mention how their parents are disturbed by the sight of inebriated revelers urinating on their lawns late at night or in the early morning hours. “My parents have a rule that if the noise wakes up the kids, they will call the police,” 13-year-old Declan Gray-Mullen told reporter Scott Merzbach.
These memories will endure.
The middle school students, members of the after-school science club, spent at least 50 hours of their own time working on the project with club adviser Jennifer Welborn. They interviewed Stephanie O’Keeffe, the chairwoman of the Amherst Select Board, and UMass and Amherst police officers. They’ve gained valuable experience talking to officials about statistics and strategies and have learned how to use that information to advance their cause. O’Keeffe told them they zeroed in on the most important issue in town.
Lt. Thomas O’Donnell of the UMass police department said he’s considering showing their video at next fall’s New Student Orientation at the university. The short film, which shows the kids’ unabashed earnestness in trying to reach the older students, could be persuasive.
Amherst police officer Marcus Humber, who patrols troublesome off-campus party houses, says college students likely don’t realize the effect they are having on residents, particularly children. Maybe this will make them stop and think, he said.
On their website, the seventh-graders ask visitors to click a button pledging to help reduce underage drinking and any drinking that endangers family safety, privacy and property. They are eager to see how many college students opt in.
It is unlikely the pledge will go viral, but it is a sincere effort and these youngsters deserve kudos.