April 30, 2004

Slope Day Raises Concerns in Community

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Slope Day may simply be an annual day of fun and celebration for students, but not all residents of Ithaca necessarily agree. Reactions from community members have ranged from complaints to enthusiasm, or at least an understanding of the tradition. Recent changes regarding security and alcohol use aim to address concerns that have been voiced by Ithacans in recent years.

In past years, open access to the slope enabled high school students to participate in the partying and drinking associated with Slope Day.

According to Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward), “the first person to be transported to a hospital [two years ago] was under 18 and of high school age.”

Changes to this year’s Slope Day aim to restrict alcohol to those over 21 and limit entrance to those over 18 who are accompanied by a Cornell student.

Ithaca High School has also made an attempt to alert parents of the upcoming event and encourage students to attend classes as required. Charles LaBarbera, principal of Ithaca High School, recently sent out a letter with report cards to notify parents. He stressed the importance of high school students’ attendance in school, particularly towards the end of the year near exams.

“I understand [Slope Day] is only for college students … [and] because there’s drinking, I don’t want [high school students] there anyway,” he said.

LaBarbera said there will be appropriate consequences for high school students who attend Slope Day instead of classes. “It’s an illegal absence from school,” he said, warning that possible punishments include in-school suspension.

Mayor Carolyn Peterson also acknowledged the high school’s efforts to keep young students away from Slope Day.

“The school district has [made] a special effort to make sure [high school] students are in school that day … it’s a concern for the community,” Peterson said.

In addition to high school students, there may still be Ithacans who will be discouraged if denied access to the slope. According to Taylor, before the fencing and heightened security, many local residents were able to participate in the event and enjoy the atmosphere. With the increased “publicity and high name appeal [of performers] … there’s going to be lots of disappointed Ithacans,” he said.

Aside from Slope Day itself, residents have expressed concern over the parties that generally occur near the end of the semester. Peterson noted that Slope Day “is during the day and many of our noise complaints are the nighttime ones.” The event itself is contained on the Cornell campus and is registered under the city’s permit system.

However, “the problems that arise and will arise at the end of classes … are the large, large parties that are either at a house or spilling into the streets,” Peterson said. She added that these celebrations will likely begin this weekend with the end of Ithaca College’s classes today.

Peterson hopes for a balance between the needs of both residents and students. As mayor she is familiar with complaints from residents about noise late at night and property damage. However, she also recognizes that students “want to unwind.”

“We want that balance” between the two extremes, Peterson said. Peterson, who has met with the Slope Day Steering Committee, praised the constant changes and improvements made to Slope Day.

“I’ve lived here [for 30 years], so I think it’s gone through different incarnations. I know Cornell is working really hard … to make sure that the day is well planned … and that people have a good time in a safe way,” she said.

Peterson also commented on the structure of Slope Day, which now includes music, food and increased security.

“I think that the approach now is better in the sense that there is control … these controls will certainly help the community [perspective on Slope Day.]”

Although Peterson has never attended Slope Day in the past, she likely will this year.

“As mayor, it’s important for me to know first-hand so I probably will stop up and take a look at what’s going on,” she said.

Despite possible tensions that may arise between Cornell students and Ithacans regarding Slope Day and disruptive partying, both Peterson and LaBarbera note that there is a nonetheless a strong relationship between the University, students and the community.

According to Peterson, students are active volunteers and interns in Ithaca. Such involvement “is much appreciated and part of what makes our community the way it is,” she said.

In addition to the student contributions, Cornell also works with the community.

“I’d like to cooperate as much with Cornell … we have a nice connection with professors that come to speak and [the University] offers their facilities,” LaBarbera said.

Taylor admits despite all these efforts everyone may not be fully satisfied with Slope Day.

“There are some fragments of the community that are disappointed with the changes that have been made … and then there are Ithacans that like the changes,” he said. “Slope Day is just one feature of [what Ithacans think of Cornell students] … these kids have worked hard all year long and they deserve it.”

Archived article by Diana Lo
Sun Senior Editor