January 23, 2012

Cornell, Landlords Mull New Patrols to Combat Collegetown Drinking

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Correction appended

University officials considered extending joint patrols between the University and City of Ithaca’s police departments to curb excessive drinking off-campus at a meeting of the Landlords Association of Tompkins County on Monday.

Deborah Lewis, alcohol projects coordinator at Gannett Health Services, said that while most students drink moderately or not at all, 45 percent of Cornell students report that they drink at levels considered binge drinking — having “five or more drinks in a sitting for a guy and four or more for a female.”

Citing statistics showing that 10 percent of students meet the clinical definition for alcohol dependence, Lewis noted that students involved in the Greek system at Cornell are two to three times more likely to engage in “high-risk drinking,” the consequences of which include “blacking out, getting in fights, hooking up and regretting it or causing damage.”

To combat a perceived displacement of drinking from campus fraternities to Collegetown properties, Lewis said the University implemented joint enforcement between the Cornell University Police Department and Ithaca Police Department Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for the first three weekends of fall semester.

“That model is something that was maybe cut short too soon this semester,” Lewis said, citing a study conducted at several universities in California that found that joint enforcement and education over the first six to eight weeks of the school year reduced the likelihood of intoxication at social events on campus and in bars off-campus.

In addition to considering extending future police patrols, Lewis said the University has worked to create late night, alcohol-free events on campus. This initiative may include the opening of a late-night dance club to keep freshmen on campus, she said.

Still, Lewis said drinking, and in particular, off-campus drinking, “is a very, very significant problem.”

According to Lewis, surveys conducted in fall 2011 revealed that 82 percent of students — and 66 percent of freshmen — reported drinking off campus in the past month. These statistics corroborate statements made at a Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting Dec. 13, at which landlords said students have become aggressive toward them, kicked holes in the walls of houses and caused thousands of dollars of damage to their properties.

While students commenting on a Dec. 18 article in The Sun accused landlords of excessive fines and failing to adequately maintain properties, Tessa Rudan ’89, a Collegetown landlord, said “landlords are not a monolith, either.”

“We’re good, honest business people and our tax dollars are greasing the wheels of the city and the county,” Rudan said. “The rents are high, but so are our property taxes and other business expenses.”

Rudan, like other landlords present at the Dec. 13 meeting, urged the University to take a more proactive approach in addressing off-campus behavior.

“I’ve called for intervention in the past and have been met with, ‘No, sorry, we don’t intervene in off-campus matters’ … I really think we need to start a dialogue between Cornell and Collegetown landlords,” she said. “What would Cornell do if a student caused $10,000 in damage to a dorm room? I think the University could maybe consider a code of conduct off campus similar to the campus code of conduct.”

Another landlord present at the meeting echoed Rudan’s concerns, saying, “We’re not policemen, we’re not parents … Undergraduate tenants can go crazy on their first off-campus experience. Would they do that in their own home?”

A member of the Landlords Association of Tompkins County suggested implementing a model used at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where college administrators, working with landlords, dealt disciplinary action to students for problematic off-campus behaviors — a strategy he said “curbed a lot of off-campus problems.”

“I’ve been hearing more and more conversations about that,” Lewis said. “It would be a major change for Cornell.”

Stressing the need to improve the relationship between students and landlords, Adam Gitlin ’13, vice president of the Student Assembly, proposed distributing decals for Collegetown landlords to place in their properties to remind students about the Good Samaritan Law. Passed in September 2011, the New York State law gives immunity to people who call for help in medical emergencies.

“For landlords, the decal serves as a visual reminder to students of the negative consequences of alcohol,” Gitlin said. “If it’s posted in Collegetown residences, they’ll see it on a regular basis when they come into and out of the house … and ingrain and begin to create a culture change that will teach students that it is a very serious problem when they drink too much.”

While students would not be “off the hook completely,” as Gannett reaches out to students who have been transported for alcohol-related reasons for a counseling and medical followup, Lewis said Cornell’s on-campus medical amnesty policy eliminates judicial consequences for those calling for help — reducing barriers to asking for assistance.

Gitlin encouraged landlords to work with the S.A. to tackle an issue he said students are also worried about.

“Students are listening. We really want to work with you and other landlords in the community to help address these concerns,” he said. “No one wants to see their friend get sick; we’re working to educate students and change that culture so they don’t continue to do that.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement regarding the creation of alcohol-free events on campus to Julie Paige, assistant dean of students in the Office of Fraternity, Sororities and Independent Living. In fact, the statement was made by Deborah Lewis, alcohol projects coordinator at Gannett Health Services. Additionally, the article incorrectly reported that the Office of Fraternity, Sororities and Independent Living has received funding for the initiative.

Original Author: Akane Otani