Ever since one of St. Thomas’ neighbors wrote a letter to TommieMedia, students’ weekend behavior has become a popular topic. In the wake of that complaint, students, staff and more neighbors have added a passionate series of comments and articles to the debate.
Obviously everyone has an opinion on the situation, and each side has made respectable arguments.
Maybe the students wandering Merriam Park at 2 a.m., and the neighbors picking up their trash eight hours later, didn’t get to this point because of disrespect or intolerance. Maybe it was the university and the people who protect it who made things this way.
Partying gets little tolerance at St. Thomas. Public Safety monitors the campus for stumbling students; resident advisers listen in hallways for any sign of drinking; hired police officers break up house parties and undercover cops pick which weekends to write the most citations for minors.
An underage student who drinks is a criminal. Not just legally, but privately as well. Authorities from both city and school hunt down partiers for partaking in a common social activity.
Saying “Well, everyone else parties” in no way excuses what’s been happening, and no one can escape alcohol laws. But perhaps instead of trying to completely combat student drinking, a plan that’s clearly unsuccessful, St. Thomas and Public Safety could focus on promoting safety and respect.
A friend of mine recently spoke to a group of freshman about drinking. He didn’t try to strike fear in them or preach about how partying is wrong and unacceptable. Instead, he shared experiences from his time in college to help encourage responsibility and smart decision-making.
This is the type of dialogue that students will actually listen to, and it can make a difference. If St. Thomas acknowledged that most students aren’t going to stay in and watch movies on the weekend, then maybe it could start changing the attitudes of students who are venturing out.
At other schools around the country, partying isn’t promoted, but it isn’t taboo, either.
Resident advisers at Stanford University don’t immediately write up students for partying in the dorms. They make sure students are being safe and considerate. Public Safety at Marquette University helps party hosts kick out unwanted guests and offers safe rides across campus. Police near the University of Kansas monitor public behavior but allow parties on private property to go on.
If St. Thomas accepted the idea that partying, both on- and off-campus, is inevitable, I think student behavior would become much less of a nuisance for the entire community.
The problem is that right now, when students decide to go out and party, it’s all or nothing. Even if they’re looking for a low-key night, the risks are the same. Sometimes small gatherings get busted and huge keggers slip under the radar. Students never really know.
Undoubtedly, there are times when Public Safety or resident advisers need to step in and take control. Punishment is needed in some situations. Getting so drunk that you have to puke in a yard is unacceptable.
But trying to stop every party is an uphill battle. Each year, a new fleet of freshmen come to St. Thomas, on their own for the first time and ready to let loose. Over the past three years, St. Thomas has cracked down harder and harder on partying. This year has already seen more disturbances than most.
With dozens of parties getting busted every weekend, no one should be surprised that such large packs of students roam the neighborhood late at night. What else are they supposed to do when cops kick them out of their friends’ houses at midnight, if not earlier? And students who live on campus have no choice but to head to the streets if they want to party on the weekends.
Maybe if students didn’t fear RAs knocking on their dorm doors, they wouldn’t have to go tromping through the neighborhood in search of a party. Maybe if students didn’t have to worry about Public Safety ticketing all their guests, there wouldn’t be such animosity between the two.
Perhaps if campus authorities took a different approach to partying, students wouldn’t feel like outcasts. Maybe then they wouldn’t feel like everyone’s out to get them.
Neighbors could become more than just cop callers. Public Safety officers could become more than just citation writers. Students could become more than just party animals.
Everyone might start getting along better.
Grant Goerke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org