Concerned about a spillover of excessive drinking into Collegetown, local landlords and residents urged Cornell administrators to crack down on unruly students at a Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday.
“Behaviors have been far worse this year and I think it has to do with the change in culture on campus. What goes along with high risk behaviors is horrible — vandalism, fires … just the most unaccountable behavior,” Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd) said. “As Cornell has rightfully cracked down on some of its on-campus behaviors, it has totally shifted the problem off campus, and it's untenable.”
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said that the University is committed to “making change that is positive and endurable” but has struggled to do so, citing a lack of funds and resources, especially in the Off-Campus Housing Office.
“Ever since the tragic death of George Desdunes [‘13] last spring, we’ve been working very hard to come up with ways to address these types of behavioral problems with our students,” Hubbell said. “I have to say that despite all of our efforts, progress is scant for the time being.”
Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives at Gannett, said that simply educating students about alcohol would not suffice to prevent them from engaging in high risk behavior. He called for the University to adopt a “harm reduction approach” to mitigate the effects of substance abuse.
Among other efforts, Cornell has coordinated with Cayuga Medical Center to follow up on students transported there, teamed up with the Ithaca Police Department to patrol off-campus areas and planned late-night programming for students seeking alcohol-free activities, he said.
Still, Marchell, like McCollister, acknowledged that strategies that reduce alcohol abuse on Cornell’s campus have in part displaced problems to surrounding neighborhoods.
One local landlord, Monica Moll, described her experience “on the front lines of the alcohol problem,” when a group of 10 Cornell students severely damaged one of her properties.
“I am shocked that no one got hurt in my building. The police would do what they could but [the students] would trash the house and kick holes in the walls. At the end of their tenancy, I’d never seen so much destruction before in my life,” she said, adding that the damage took two weeks to fix and went “well beyond” the property’s security deposit.
Moll stressed that the incident was an isolated one but said she has since placed security cameras around all of her properties. After finding out that the Off-Campus Housing Office was unable to help her, she said the only option she had was to take legal action — a process that, months later, she is still working on.
“I felt like I was on my own. [The students] graduate, they move on … [but] where are the consequences to the students while they’re still here?” she said. “Maybe Cornell should put them on probation or step in … because the only thing they care about is Cornell and their degree.”
Tessa Rudan ’89, another landlord, echoed Moll’s frustrations, speaking about how difficult it is to resolve unruly tenant behavior without University intervention.
“Unfortunately, the Ithaca police, fire department and legal system are the only recourse we have. Cornell is the only thing that matters to [students] — they scoff at the police, at the legal system and at me,” she said.
However, Adam Gitlin ’13, executive vice president of the Student Assembly, defended students, saying that they do not intend to be destructive or harbor “visceral aggression toward landlords.”
“We’re working on initiatives as students to make sure it’s known that it’s not okay to do this. I know it’s not going to recoup what you’ve lost immediately, but no student wants to see a friend go to the hospital because they’ve drank too much,” he said.
Residents living near Collegetown expressed concern over the proximity of dangerous drinking to their homes and families.
“I have friends whose kids end up at fraternity parties,” a resident of South Hill said. “If something does happen, where does the liability lie? Is it Cornell, the landlord or the family?”
Marchell said that noise violations and open containers are issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the city police.
Chris Sanders ’13, incoming president of the Interfraternity Council, added that it is difficult for Cornell to find evidence and provide substantial rulings on alcohol infractions off campus when many cases are “based off of hearsay.”
Emphasizing the University’s interest in working with the community toward a solution, Marchell said the meeting would not be the last of its kind.
“We’re at a particular moment right now where the University recognizes that there are fundamental, inherent problems with issues around drinking that affect the off-campus and on-campus community,” Marchell said. “You cannot deal with one without dealing with the other; this is going to have to be an ongoing conversation.”