Facts, Level-Headed Tactics
Way To Lessen Student Rowdiness
During the debate over Hillside Commons last year, one landlord was talking about how, as the academic credentials of SUNY Oneonta students rose – they are still rising – the damage to his apartments declined.
Of course, it makes sense. The more students who are more focused on their studies, the less interest they have in Beer Pong and the like.
While there is always elevated concern about mischief in college towns like Oneonta when students return – disorderly conduct, noise, public urination and, in the wee hours when the bars empty out, in particular, fights – there’s no comprehensive magic-wand solution immediately at hand.
The news that a SUNY Oneonta student is in critical condition after striking his head on the pavement during an early hours altercation Sunday the 13th underscores how serious the issue can be.
Coincidentally, NPR broadcast a chilling piece on campus drinking on the 8th, reporting 80 percent of college students drink and half of them binge drink. Dr. Sharon Levy, director of teen substance abuse at Boston Children’s Hospital, says, “Everybody’s drinking to get drunk. Kids tell me this is how they socialize with friends.”
When students enter college at 18, “the part of their brain in charge of seeking reward and stimulation is in full gear,” the report continued. “But here’s the tricky part: The part of the brain that could put the brakes on impulsive behavior is still immature and not fully functioning.”
While, locally, we’re concerned, as we should be, about the impact of student misbehavior on the quality of life, students should be more concerned than we are: A half million under the influence are injured every year, and 1,800 die, NPR reported.
To a degree, college extends adolescence: Heavy drinking is more of a problem among college students than their peers in the working world. That speaks to the whole idea of a year of mandatory community service after high school.
Somewhat more mature incoming freshmen would be more focused, better prepared to take advantage of what a college education has to offer and to avoid the pitfalls.
But that’s not a solution we can implement here today.
The point of our local situation is not to panic. The world isn’t coming to an end because 7,500 students are back in town, as they have returned for 125 years at SUNY and 85 at Hartwick.
The Miller Administration has been pursuing sensible solutions for some time now: For instance, opening the lines of communication between the OPD, university police and Hartwick security (where Tom Kelly became director of campus security after a distinguished career in the state police). These people are pros.
In 2012, OPD raided three bars identified as magnets for underage drinkers, then closed them down. Regrettably, this pushed underage drinkers into “house parties” in residential neighborhoods, the current focus of much police activity. Push in here, it comes out there.
In a conversation the other day, the mayor pointed out that the weekend of Sept. 6-7, when mischief spiked, was Pledge Weekend. “But who knew,” he said. Part of the solution, he said, may be understanding the campuses’ social calendars and tapping the college forces to help the OPD during the hot spots.
This is the kind of level-headed problem analysis we’ve come to expect from Mayor Miller, an approach that lends itself to a problem that can be eased now, but only solved longterm.
A good first step. always, is to get the facts. Numbers were provided at the stormy Tuesday, Sept. 16, Common Council meeting and the impression is they are up. If so, how much? Let’s nail down the extent of any spike before we declare a crisis.
Emotions may be raw right now, but emotions aren’t going to solve anything. The public’s had a say. Now, it might make sense to put together a representative panel to explore the challenge and come up with practical, proven steps.
You can be sure that Oneonta is not unique, that what may be happening here is happening elsewhere. And someone may even have figured out an amelioration.
Regardless, let’s not forget that Oneonta, on balance, is a better, more prosperous place because of our colleges, and the brainy professionals and ever more motivated students they bring here, not to mention the payroll.
The colleges – faculty, students, staff – are our friends.
Let’s treat rowdiness for what it is, a negative piece in a happier whole. When you think about it, isn’t that what so much of life is like?