Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Regarding the Fairmount Housing Proposal, Student Culture, and Safety

by S. P. Cerasano
Professor of English

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the many comments on the Fairmount Housing Proposal, both as these postings address the social learning of students and as they detail the myriad pragmatic difficulties that such a housing project would bring to the center of the village.  Because I concur with much of what has been said I will not repeat those sentiments here; however, I would like to add the issue of safety to the mix. 

As someone who has lived in the center of the village, for more than two decades, I would add that a significant difference in my experience over the past few years centers on the proliferation of what students refer to as “after-hours parties,” by which they mean the extension of the party scene from the downtown bars to their private apartments after the bars close down in the early hours of the morning.  Such nonstop partying has brought about some profound changes.  First, this trend has created an environment in which some students are on the village streets at all hours.  (I have observed students carrying on, on the streets outside of my residence, at 5:00 am and 5:30 am.)  Second, the proliferation of after-hours parties has doubtless encouraged students to drink for lengthier periods of time.  (When I phoned the Hamilton police regarding an after-hours party—on May 7th (the Wednesday morning of final exam week)—an ambulance had to be brought to the scene to collect one female student who was completely incapable of walking out of the party by herself.  Others had to be escorted out of the party, held up by officers.)  Finally, and not least of all, after-hours partying encourages large groups of students to congregate in places which are not meant to contain such numbers of persons safely.  (Some after-hours parties, located on the same street, have easily involved a hundred (or many more) students in a single dwelling, virtually all of them congregated inside a single structure.)

I’m wondering now what happens when students follow their friends the short distance from the center of the village to the new apartment block for after-hours parties.  Who will monitor its occupancy at 2:00 am?  In 2013, Boston University had to deal with a tragic incident created by a fire that broke out in a house that was filled much beyond occupancy with partying students. The building could not be vacated quickly, resulting in the death of one student; other students and some of the fire fighters who responded to the call for help suffered serious injuries.  (See:

I would add, as well, that not all of the parents of college students are convinced that off-campus living is the best residential option.  Last summer, when a member of my family did the college tour, one institution with which Colgate has continually compared itself (but is currently ranked much higher), advertised to parents that “98% of our students live in college housing and we will soon be moving to 100%”, a detail that many visiting parents apparently found an attractive feature.  At first, the parents’ response rather surprised me.  But it was echoed in a conversation I had two months ago, with the mother of a graduating senior.  She confessed that she had allowed her daughter to join a Colgate sorority only because it would mean that her daughter would live in on-campus housing which, she thought, would be “safer than other options.”        

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