Monday, October 08, 2007

Off-campus Tufts Students Not Good Neighbors

All's not quiet in the neighborhoods near Tufts
By Kristen Green, Globe Correspondent

Somerville officials and a neighborhood group are calling on Tufts University to take more responsibility for students they say are behaving badly in the neighborhoods, screaming in the streets in the wee hours, jumping on cars, and urinating and vomiting in residents' yards.

Neighbors have always had to cope with students living around them, said Tom Kinslow, a founding member of the West Somerville Neighborhood Group. But he said this year's crop of students seems especially inconsiderate.

He described throngs of students walking up and down the streets "howling." The noise was so loud this summer that he closed all his windows and eventually resorted to contacting the landlord of one house, complaining that the screaming peaked between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Not long after, he said, several students assembled in his yard early one morning, repeatedly yelling the time - 1:46 a.m.

"They feel like we're an annoyance and a stumbling block to them basically enjoying themselves however and whenever they want to," Kinslow said.

Bruce Reitman, dean of student affairs at Tufts, said the school expects students to be respectful of their neighbors and is working with residents to address their concerns. He suggested improving lines of communication between students and their neighbors, pointing to a barbecue held last year, and suggested hosting neighborhood cleanups or starting a student-run babysitting service could be other ways to "build some linkages" and solve problems.

"We will never leave the neighbors or neighborhood association on their own to deal with it," he said. "We care a lot about what happens in the neighborhoods, and we care about our neighbors."

But Reitman added that there's always going to be some tension between the students and the neighbors. And as new students move to the neighborhoods each fall, he said, the problem begins anew.

"The neighbors are fed up and they're tired of talking about the problems. They just want the behavior to stop. I understand that," Reitman said. "That doesn't mean it's not being addressed."

About 750 of the college's 5,000 students live off the Medford/Somerville campus. Nathan Rosenberg, a sophomore who lives in the ATO fraternity house on Professors Row, which is trying to get a lodging license renewed with Somerville, said a certain amount of yelling in the neighborhoods is to be expected. But, he said, "students should respect the people who live here and the quiet they need."

According to some residents, such respect has been lacking this fall.

Alderman Bob Trane, who represents the neighborhood around Tufts, said he couldn't believe how students treated members of the neighborhood group who handed out fliers explaining the noise ordinance and outlining trash pickup policies when school started back last month.

"These kids just kind of laugh in their face and give them nothing but grief," said Trane, who is president of the Somerville Board of Aldermen. "It's the attitude, 'We can do whatever we want to do.' "

Reitman said he has received about 50 reports of problematic student behavior off campus since the school year began. He said the university holds students accountable, issuing fines, requiring them to perform community service, contacting their parents, and putting some on probation.
But Trane, who is seeking reelection to his seat as the Ward 7 alderman next month, said the university response hasn't been sufficient.

"It's not going to be tolerated," he said. "We're going to take these streets back."

Acting Police Chief Robert Bradley said that his department and the Tufts police are teaming up on late-night patrols, as they have been doing for two years while classes are in session. In this arrangement, two patrol cars each have a Tufts officer paired with a Somerville officer.

Trane suggested Tufts should kick in money to help foot the bill for the patrols, a suggestion other aldermen endorsed. "This university certainly has the means to protect the community in which it sits," said Alderwoman Maryann Heuston.

The board's licenses and permits subcommittee recently denied a one-year lodging permit to ATO, in part because it received complaints that glass bottles were being thrown from a roof deck onto the sidewalk and street below. The subcommittee gave the fraternity a conditional 60-day permit that requires the deck and emergency exit to be closed to social uses.

Reitman said ATO is in good standing. And the fraternity's president, Ben Moskowitz , said the fraternity wants to comply with the city's demands in order to get its one-year lodging permit. He said he hasn't received reports of bottles being thrown from the building.

Moskowitz said Tufts fraternities' stricter enforcement of house drinking policies could be responsible for pushing more parties into the neighborhood. "That's forced a lot of students to find other social outlets," he said. "I'm surprised there hasn't been more issues."

He said the community tolerates a lot, and said it would be in students' interests to quietly walk to and from parties. He said it's important for students to build good relationships with their neighbors.

"It's going to be an uphill battle for us," Moskowitz said, "because people already have the idea that Tufts students might not be what they once were."