September 9, 2005

Neighborhood Council Works to Protect C-town

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The Collegetown Neighborhood Council met yesterday to discuss the safety and rights of off-campus residents at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Collegetown.

Among those attending this month’s meeting were Gary J. Stewart, assistant director for community relations; LeNorman Strong, assistant vice president for student and academic affairs; Sharron Thrasher, director of student affairs and diversity; as well as several members of the City of Ithaca Common Council and representatives from the Ithaca Police Department.

Strong started the meeting with an update on the newly-formed Off-Campus Housing Task Force. The Task Force was formed in November 2004 in response to students’ concerns after several highly publicized criminal incidents took place in the Collegetown area, including the Collegetown Creeper, and the discovery that an Ithaca landlord was secretly videotaping residents in a Collegetown apartment.

The goal of the Task Force is to educate students who seek off-campus housing about their rights and responsibilities as Collegetown residents in the Ithaca community. Strong, Thrasher, Stewart and Mary Tomlan M.A.’71 (D-3rd Ward) are also members of the task force.

Strong provided an update on a report that was drafted by the task force to address these concerns. Undertaken last year, the report was an effort “[by the] community to take a look-see at what some challenges, problems and opportunities are,” Strong explained.

A draft of recommendations made by the task force last spring in response to the concerns of students living off-campus was submitted to Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs, Susan H. Murphy.

“[Murphy] then charged me to think about an implementation process,” Strong said, and noted that Dean of Students Kent L. Hubbell is also working with him “- in an effort to implement the recommendations.”

The task force is working hard to prioritize the recommendations and determine which of them deserves funding by November 1, when the University starts its budget process. “Murphy has been most keen in terms of ‘what can we do right now,'” Strong said.

Some of the efforts that have already been implemented by the task force include a major website redesign and improved website navigation to help students find off-campus housing. The website, which also allows landlords to advertise their property, only lists properties that have current Certificates of Compliance, and has received “a couple of good reports by students,” according to Strong.

The task force also approved a draft of a Property Inspection Form which will essentially be a “Dummies’ Guide to inspect Off-Campus Facilities,” said Strong. He noted that after the “Creeper” incident, “some students were cloudy as to what they should be looking for [in an apartment].” The form would alert students to look for, among other safety features, window screens, window locks, operable exterior doors and outside lighting. Locks are required to provided by landlords. The form was drafted with the help of several students who lived off-campus, and has been sent for review to Buildings Commissioner Phyllis Radke.

The task force is also looking at a list of potential sites for an Off-Campus Housing Resource Office, to aid students who are interested in off-campus housing. “So much of what we’re doing is virtual,” Strong noted, but said that he realized that a “convenient walk in location [for students] is useful.” Ideally, the resource office would be located close to, or in Collegetown, but in the case that it would have to be situated on North Campus, a satellite office would be located in Collegetown during “high traffic” periods when students are looking for housing.

“Access won’t be an issue,” Strong reiterated. Strong also mentioned that a task force request for Public Service Work Study Student-peer mentoring positions was approved last week. Peer advisors would undergo extensive training to provide one-to-one mentoring to students to help them deal with off-campus housing issues. The program implementation will be “predicated on funding,” Strong said.

Other issues relating to student safety off-campus were addressed, in particular, the recent string of burglaries and robberies in the Stewart Avenue area. Sergeant John Norman of the Ithaca Police Department noted that one problem that the department has encountered when trying to apprehend individuals is that the students “who are ‘jumped’ are delaying in reporting the robberies, so we can’t go on the scene, can’t look for suspects in an easy fashion.” He explained that the lapse in time of reporting these crimes might be due to the fact that the victim was intoxicated at the time of attack. Norman acknowledged that being intoxicated may make students ideal targets for robberies, but also reiterated that victims should not delay reporting attacks because they have been drinking. He emphasized that “if an eighteen year old presents [us] with a crime, even though he is intoxicated, [the student] will not be charged with a crime.”

Office Christine Barksdale of the IPD also spoke about burglaries in the Collegetown area, especially during periods when students are on break. The incidence of burglaries “are really bad in December,” Barksdale noted, “when students are not there, houses get burglarized. Students don’t lock houses up.” Barksdale said that students should be responsible and make sure that all doors and windows are locked when they leave for Winter break, and should alert the police department when they leave for extended periods of time.

Barksdale noted that officers do house checks when patrolling the neighborhood, and that residents should come down to the police department, where there are forms available to keep on record, to alert police that they will be out of town.

Tomlan also said that she “urged people to live where there are other long term residents. We’d be happy to keep an eye on safety and security of the house.”

Most importantly, Strong commented that his task force “spent considerable time on how [to] infuse the very dynamic processes of adult independence with personal responsibility.”

Strong noted that while the task force, the police department and other university officials were committed to helping students navigate through the process of off-campus housing, and to ensure their safety, “real safety starts with their own personal responsibility.”

Archived article by Samira Chandwani
Sun Staff Writer