Is there a real solution to the college town dilemma?

The Morning Magazine crew of WCHE and I had a very interesting discussion this morning. As many of you know, I am a regular featured guest on WCHE each Thursday morning for about 20 minutes.

Today the discussion surrounded the continuing saga of West Chester University, its students both on and off campus, drinking, fights, other assorted bad behaviors and of course, landlords. It also included a visit from Jeff Stein, owner of a private security firm.

A couple of months ago West Chester agreed to begin a pilot program with the university in which the private security firm helped to patrol some of the neighborhoods surrounding West Chester University. The patrols were done Thursday through Saturday from 10 at night until 3 in the morning.

According to Daily Local News reporter Jeremy Gerrard’s story, Stein said the teams are strategically placed on South Walnut Street and Magnolia Street throughout the evening and eventually make their way to high-traffic areas like the corner of South Matlack and East Nields streets.

According to Stein, one of the biggest problems they noticed was the excessive noise coming from individuals yelling up and down the streets. Stein said most of the people they encountered were respectful when confronted and asked to quiet down, and a few would go on to thank them.

 

“We’re trying to educate,” Stein said. He also noted their presence was helpful in discouraging a few fights from happening and they did report some instances of vandalism to the police who were able to follow up with several arrests and citations.

 

Stein is a West Chester graduate and it’s his firm that is doing the patrolling. Now I will admit I wasn’t at the meeting in which Stein spoke to the committee but it seems that he is making the point that what his firm is doing is proving to be beneficial it remains tough to quantify and being a businessman, he certainly would be presenting an analysis that shows the need for his services. Not that I doubt his honesty but a deal with the university and/or the borough would certainly be in his interest. I think I would be more convinced if there was more science to it. Chart the borough into areas and map out the problems and take a more definitive look. Hey, that’s just me talking.

But back to this morning and here’s what we talked about: student housing, student populations, landlords and their responsibilities, drinking, university policies.

Here in a nutshell is where I am coming from on the whole issue of West Chester University and its relationship to and with the borough. And I am a WCU graduate myself.

In my opinion, there are too many students at the university. The university security team like most at other college campuses is small and not meant to be the SWAT team. They are there to handle minor issues so when you are dealing with thousands of college kids, it’s a daunting task – at best. So perhaps the university needs to take a look at its enrollment figures. Of course not accepting students is not good business for the college either.

In my opinion, when you have a college town, the fewer bars and taverns, the better. Unfortunately to some, downtown West Chester has more than its shares of places to dine – and drink. So that just makes it more likely that there will be alcohol-related issues. But again, who are we to tell businessmen and women NOT to open up an establishment?

In my opinion, the university should require freshmen and sophomores to reside on campus – period. Figure out a way to make it work with your student population and then insist on either student Resident Advisors (RAs) or hire adults to reside on campus as RAs to enforce rules such as curfews, drinking violations, etc. Once you start making students aware of the consequences, the more likely the problems will decrease.

In my opinion, landlords cannot be expected to do more than try and rent to those who seem responsible, require hefty security deposits, work strong language into leases than include severe penalties – including eviction and university notification – for bad behavior, require parental notifications and some responsibility for poor behavior and other kinds of tough rules. Despite the WCHE discussions today, the landlord can’t be expected to sit on his property and babysit 24 hours a day. And to be honest, the nicest kids sober can become the biggest knuckleheads when drunk. Heck, even serial killers can seem like nice people!

In my opinion, money needs to come from somewhere to both hire additional campus police as well as borough police whose main jobs would be to tackle the issue of student behaviors. Once the word gets out that you’re going to pay a steep price to bad behaviors – including alcohol-related problems – then the problems are likely to decrease. I see that as a better solution than hiring a firm that by its own admission is a glorified Town Watch group. To be realistic, though, the problems will never disappear. There are just too many kids with their own issues and baggage and personalities to be able to be held accountable to a landlord 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Overall, I just think the parties aren’t taking responsibility or being realistic for what’s happening and that includes the university, the borough, the police department, the landlords, the students and the parents.

We are talking about thousands of kids out on their own – many for the first time. Do we really think that isn’t an issue? And really, showing films or having discussions on drinking, etc.? We’re kidding ourselves if we think a movie means a hill of beans to some of these kids. It’s likely they have been messing around with alcohol – or worse – way before they arrived in West Chester.

So is the answer to just give up? No. But I do think we need to stop tap dancing around the issues and just simply blaming the police, the kids, the landlords or the university. Everyone has a hand in the problem so therefore everyone has to have a hand in the solution.

But it seems like we’ve been talking about this problem forever. Can we actually do something meaningful and do it now? Thanks.

— Andy Hachadorian

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About fromtheeditorchair

I am the editor of the Daily Local News.
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