posted on: Thursday September 22, 2016
by Meaghan Dodson ’17
Eaton Street, as the location of many students’ off-campus homes, is as much a part of the Providence College community as the campus itself. In recent weeks there have been several major developments on this street as new houses have been built and new policies have been put into effect.
First and foremost, the houses that burned down in last spring’s fire have been rebuilt and re-inhabited just in time for the beginning of the school year.
“02908” Club landlord, Bob McCann, is proud to announce that the burnt down houses “Shabooms” and “Big Ben” are back and better than ever, while the third, a new house called “The Phoenix,” literally rose out from the ashes of the fire on March 31.
Sean Wrenn ’17, one of the “Shabooms” residents, states, “Everybody in the house has been very happy with everything. Bob did a great job getting the houses built in such a short time and it’s awesome living in a place where everything is brand new.”
Stanley Vieira, director of citizenship and off-campus life, spoke to the good relationships between the College and the 15 or so other off-campus landlords who are responsible for housing PC students.
Other recent events on Eaton Street, however, have not been received with as much enthusiasm. The past several weeks have seen an outbreak of both car and car registration thefts.
Vieira confirmed that undercover police officers are dedicated to solving this problem, but that the Providence Police Department (PPD) is often understaffed and simply cannot be everywhere at once. College students are always targets for theft, he stated, and both PC and the PPD have taken active roles by increasing surveillance in the area.
Cam Collier ’17 and Chris Collier ’17 were victims of car theft both last year and this year.
Cam Collier’s car was stolen from his Pembroke Avenue home during the 2015-2016 academic year, only to be found three days later when the culprits, two 16-year-old boys, were pulled over for running a red light.
His home was also broken into several times last year, and thieves made off with many items of value, including two Xboxes, a TV, and several backpacks that contained textbooks and laptops.
Chris Collier, meanwhile, had his car stolen over the summer from his Eaton Street home. The thieves broke into the car and stole his registration/VIN number, returning a couple days later in order to steal the car using the key that they had made. The car has not been recovered.
The Colliers reported the thefts to Vieira, PC Security, and the Providence Police Department, all of whom were responsive and eager to help.
The Colliers are but two of many students who have had their cars stolen in recent weeks. Cam Collier stated, “I’m worried about my car being broken into again, especially since a lot of my friends have gotten their cars stolen as well. I’m scared to put anything in my car.”
The Colliers, along with the rest of their house, recently invested in a $200 security system that features four video cameras that monitor the driveway and the front and back doors of their house.
One student, after conferring with the other members of her house, asserted that no members of the house were present on the evening in question, and that the partiers entered into the backyard uninvited. She added that her house has never thrown a party because it wanted to avoid precisely this situation.
The orange stickers served as a notice to these homes, warning them that if the police have to break up another party, each member of the respective houses will pay a $500 fine. The stickers will be in effect for six months, meaning that they will carry over into next semester.
Vieira commented on the recent stickering, stating that the PPD gave out these warnings because the houses were in violation of city nuisance laws. He added that the stickering affects not only the students living in the homes, but also the landlords who may face more severe fines if the houses get into further trouble.
Vieira stated that the administration’s concern is not to prevent the students from enjoying themselves, but rather to prevent large gatherings of 300-400 people. These gatherings threaten the safety of PC students, Vieira stated, especially when people from outside the College arrive uninvited. “Our goal is for our students to be smart, safe, and to have fun,” Vieira remarked.
Following this stickering episode, local reporters waited outside the stickered homes in an attempt to interview the residents. The students did not feel comfortable leaving their homes because they did not want to be interviewed. Several members of the College’s administration were also interviewed by reporters.
“I didn’t see the reporter myself, but I did see my house on the evening news,” one student commented. “My house has never initiated, supported, or encouraged the parties, but now we are the ones being held liable for them.”
The student remarked how her house has already had to call the police several times as uninvited partiers have flocked behind her home. She observed that students, and especially underclassmen, come into her backyard while they try to figure out where to go, because upperclassmen are hesitant to let them into their homes for fear of being stickered themselves.
“We don’t know what to do,” the student said. “We want to be cooperative, and we don’t want to get into any more trouble. What happens, though, when one of us isn’t home to break up an unwanted party?”
The student, like many others, has also invested in an expensive security camera in order to prevent further trouble.
A student expressed frustration at the recent events, stating, “There’s so many police roaming the streets looking for parties. Can’t they spend that time looking for our stolen cars?”
Campus-wide concern for these issues resulted in the calling of an Off-Campus Coalition meeting, which took place on Wednesday, September 14.
Over 150 off-campus students were present, as well as Vieira, Leyden, and Steven Sears, associate vice president for student affairs.
Issues such as police presence, orange stickers, off-campus parties, and “Golf Party” were addressed at the meeting. Students remarked that they have come to fear the police and are afraid to sit out on their own porches.
One student pointed out that, in past years, he would not have been afraid to go up to a police officer if something happened during a “Golf Party.” Now, however, he is unwilling to go up to the police even though he is over 21. Students also expressed an opinion that the PPD fails to respond in an adequate and timely manner to actual crimes.
Students asked about the appeal process for orange stickers, especially since many students stated that they were not home for the parties that led to these stickers.
Furthermore, students expressed a desire to coordinate and compromise with the College regarding off-campus events. They offered several suggestions, such as hosting a charity event/block party for spring “golfing,” and they stated that they would be willing to have ID checks, bracelets, and senior volunteers in order to keep the party under control.
Students also expressed a willingness to move their parties on campus. Seniors are legally allowed to drink and they pay a high rent for their homes, they stated, so they do not want to constantly pay for bars in order to enjoy themselves.
The students also asserted that they had attended the meeting without being forced to do so, which shows a desire to mend relationships with administration.
Several students resented the fact that College officials called them in and questioned them for being a part of an off-campus GroupMe message that included over 100 members of the senior class. Vieira, Sears, and Leyden asserted that they were unaware of both the GroupMe and of any actions taken by the College.
Vieira, Sears, and Leyden responded to many of the students’ concerns. Sears stated his desire to be as transparent as possible, and he readily admitted that he considers his PC students to be outstanding individuals—he just wants them to be safe.
“We all know students participate in many great community service events through service clubs and organizations, helping with snow removal, tutoring, babysitting, to name a few, but it can be overshadowed by large parties, arrests, and more importantly, safety concerns,” he stated.
He also acknowledged that it is not only PC students who party off campus; other nearby colleges host these parties as well, but they simply do not get as much media attention.
Leyden, a former police officer himself, acknowledged that the students have many valid points, but also stated that off-campus events are outside the College’s jurisdiction and are thus left to the discretion of the PPD. He asserted that the parking ban is a safety tool, and that it is meant to allow emergency vehicles and neighbors to get through the area, as well as to discourage uninvited partiers from showing up to PC gatherings.
He remarked how crime has decreased in recent years, and that he is currently working with student representatives from Congress in order to find more on-campus parking spaces. “We want to work with you, and this is a positive step in the right direction,” he stated.
Vieira, meanwhile, said that in the future, there will be an off-campus student committee with the task of planning events.
One senior stated, “I really appreciated that Stan [Vieira], Dean Sears, and Major Leyden took the time to attend the meeting and to listen to the questions and concerns of the senior students, clarifying what they could and providing support and guidance to the best of their ability.”
Reim Alian ’17, senior class vice president and chair of off-campus living, stated, “The meeting last week was a great step in mending the relationship between students, administration, and safety and security. The next meeting will incorporate PPD in efforts of establishing mutual respect between students and law enforcement.”
Steps are now being taken to balance student demands with administration’s concerns. Something of a compromise may have been reached on Saturday, September 17, when Student Activities & Cultural Programming, along with Student Affairs, hosted a “Backyard Barbecue” on Smith Lawn.
Students unofficially decided to attend the event in their preppiest “golf attire,” and they enjoyed the good weather while listening to music and eating the barbecue food.
One senior commented, “It definitely wasn’t as fun as previous golf parties, but it was nice that administration gave us an alternative because they didn’t have to do so.”
Sears stated, “We want our community to be safe and for our students to be good neighbors. The [Off-Campus Coalition] meeting was productive because it provided a good way for all of us to dialogue and come up with some solutions; hence, the on campus backyard BBQ. These events will continue and we are working closely with the Off Campus Coalition to open communication with our neighbors (non-students), the city solicitor, the police, and the landlords to be more educated regarding all aspects of living off campus.”
As both the month of September and the warmer weather begin to fade, off-campus parties are likely to settle down. Eaton Street, however, will remain a point of concern for students and administration alike, and these issues will once again return to the forefront in the spring.
Looking forward, Sears stated, “We are hoping for a safe, engaged off campus community and we will continue to listen, take action, and improve the quality of life for our overall neighborhood community now and in the future.”