THE START of the new school year is an exciting time for Boston's college students, but residents in the city's neighborhoods may not be so thrilled to have them back. Universities are part of the lifeblood of Greater Boston. But to wary year-round residents, the annual influx of students into off-campus apartments in areas such as Mission Hill and Allston mainly signals more noisy parties and late-night disturbances.
The obvious long term solution to the problem is for local colleges and universities to greatly expand on-campus housing. But in the meantime, these schools should do more to promote harmony between full-time residents and their student neighbors.
Some schools are taking productive steps to maintain order. Boston College recently unveiled a new plan in which the school will pay for five Boston police officers to patrol with school police, who otherwise have little jurisdiction off-campus. For its part, Boston University has a long-standing policy in which administrator Joe Walsh regularly rides with campus police to ensure students' safety off-campus and serve as a check on rowdy parties. After discovering one, he can file a report with the school, which then takes disciplinary measures similar to those given to students who cause disruptions in on-campus housing.
Such measures are welcome. But schools also need to cultivate stronger ties to local communities on a day-to-day basis.
"Part of it is just creating a culture of mutual respect," says Robert Van Meter, executive director of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation. He said that in a recent tour of Clark University in Worcester, he was struck by the emphasis placed on the positive relationship between the students and residents and added that local schools should better embrace that philosophy. Clark's Community Engagement and Volunteering Center is particularly active - and is a good model for other campuses.
Little things go a long way in helping to facilitate healthy coexistence. Walsh, BU's director of community affairs, serves on several community boards in Brighton and deals directly with residents, many of whom he knows because he was raised in the area. He also has a way of dealing with students who he says "don't seem to get the message." He insists that such students offer a personal apology to residents the day after a complaint, or else they can expect future visits, which he claims are "not a pleasant picture."
All Boston-area colleges need to take seriously their obligation to surrounding communities. Above all, this means recognizing the role that their students - and their own housing policies - have upon neighborhood life. Schools have leverage to keep neighborhoods like Allston from turning into "Animal House," and they ought to use it.