Curbing misbehavior by UMass students 'a marathon'

Last modified: Wednesday, December 05, 2012

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts officials are using a range of approaches, including discipline and scheduling more on-site activities, to combat problems caused by students when they venture off campus.

But for those who are trying to solve these behavioral issues, including campus police and the dean of students office, as well as those who live near the UMass campus and are affected, there is an understanding that it will be a slow process to achieve and measure results.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” UMass Police Chief John Horvath said at a community forum held at the UMass police station Tuesday night. “A lot of residents don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth.”

The forum was both an opportunity for dialogue and a way for the university to be transparent in how it deals with students who misbehave in the community.

Dean of Students Enku Gelaye said the student code of conduct is both a disciplinary and educational tool to inform students about community standards and behavioral expectations.

“It is one of many ways we have to foster and develop students,” Gelaye said.

During the 2011-12 school year, her office interacted with 652 students related to 459 off-campus incidents. Of these, 79 percent were first-time offenders.

“We’re very direct with students when we meet with them how they’re impacting neighbors,” Gelaye said.

While many of those who came to the meeting offered praise for the university’s efforts, there was also skepticism that they are accomplishing anything, especially since there are many students who will create problems but never face any sanctions from the university.

John Coull of Sheerman Lane told Gelaye the student code of conduct doesn’t address the yelling on streets or urinating and vomiting in yards.

“Have you, or anyone else in this room, seen the hordes of young people returning to the dorms between 1 and 2 and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and committing unspeakable acts of unneigborliness?” Coull asked.

Jan Eidelson of Kellogg Avenue said she would like to see more students face disciplinary consequences for their off-campus actions, even if they are not arrested.

“It’s these kids I’m very concerned about because they literally slip through the cracks of accountability,” Eidelson said.

The more than one in five students who are repeat offenders is a concern to Peter Vickery of Cherry Lane. He said the town appears to have a “kick me” sign by the way students take advantage of their freedoms.

“Assaulting police officers is beyond the pale,” Vickery said.

Larry Kelley of South Pleasant Street suggested that assaults on police officers lead to automatic expulsion.

Gelaye disagreed and cited a process that has to be followed. “We don’t have rubrics for anything,” Gelaye said.

Though some residents called for more officers, both on the town and UMass force, Horvath said this wasn’t likely.

“We aren’t going to enforce our way out of the problems,” Horvath said.

For one, he said, there aren’t enough officers, and second it is not how the university wants to treat its students.

“It’s about building incremental steps toward improving the issues confronting the community,” Horvath said.

One avenue being explored is to have landlords help solve some of the problems, and several were in attendance, including Curt Shumway and Wendy Jones.

David Vaillancourt, associate dean for graduate and off-campus students, said his office is starting an education series about being good citizens in town and asking landlords to participate in a new program that requires students intending to live off campus to go through a formal education program before leasing.

Maurianne Adams of Beston Street said she is urging landlords to hire private security details and be more proactive, for example, by identifying if tenants have underground bars.

Gelaye said the university’s multi-pronged approach includes new student orientation, participation in the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, joint police patrols, UMass Night Out monthly on-campus activities and involvement in events such as the Amherst Business Improvement District’s Block Party and coffee hour for student leaders to meet with town officials.

Lisa Queenin, the director of community relations, praised those neighborhoods where cookouts have been held and students invited to participate, and this fall where Cinda Jones, who owns properties in North Amherst, held a gathering of permanent and student residents at The Harp.

For some who attended, like Robert and Hwei-Ling Greeney of McClellan Street, the opportunity to learn more about what UMass is doing made it a productive meeting. “It can’t make things any worse,” Robert Greeney said.

“This is a problem we all need to solve together,” he said. “It’s always a good reminder that we can do more.”

John Fox of Fearing Street said the university needs to rethink in a global way as there are no signs of progress. While he said Gelaye is genuine in her work, there is a disconnect between the students she deals with and the thousands of students who continue to cause trouble.

“There is a sense of effort, but there is a need for a great deal more resources,” Fox said.

Some students who observed the proceedings saw first-hand the frustration.

Nick Canelas, a sophomore from Lowell, said he was aggravated to hear the tone of some residents. “They’re talking about us like we’re property” Canelas said.

Tommy Verdone, a junior from Glastonbury, Conn., said he saw administrators defending students, noting that the large majority of students aren’t causing the issues.

“This was a nice collaboration between community and police,” Verdone said. “It’s clear both are working together.”


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