WCU’s Civility Day not only gave students the opportunity to listen to discussions led by several faculty members and motivational speakers, but also allowed them to part-take in the day-long event by conversing with local residents about the rules of civil behavior. “Defining the Rules for Civil Behavior” led by WCU professor and former West Chester mayoral candidate, Jim Jones, was one of the first civility sessions Thursday morning held in Sykes Student Union. Four West Chester residents, whose borough homes border the University campus, joined Jones and two students in an open panel discussion about the common conflicts off-campus students and their neighbors’ experience each school year.
“A student neighbor once told me that I knew this was a college town when I moved here so I should have known it was going to be loud and asked ‘So what’s the problem?” said a West Chester resident in the panel audience.
“That’s assuming it was always this way.and this town has changed,” Jones said; in response to the ‘college town’ comment residents hear all the time.
Residents discussed and shared horror stories about student rental neighbors who have pushed the envelope on civil-neighborly behavior in the past and have set the tone for their safety concerns. An audience member recalled a night where a party next door got out of control, police were already on the scene, and so he went outside to see what was going on. The next morning he woke up to a brick through the back windshield of his car and vowed never to show his face in that situation again.
“I’m not going to put myself at risk by going over to a loud house and asking them to keep it down,” said Lynn Klingensmith, Director of Judicial Affairs and local resident. Several audience members, including students, agreed with her statement and said they would not feel comfortable either in that situation.
Agreeing with Klingensmith and off of past experiences, Jones added, “The incentives are to call the police and let someone else handle it.”
“When it gets to the point of irrational behavior, it is no longer civility,” said local resident, Greg Halvorsen, a Price St. resident who lives with his wife and two children. He also mentioned that he has been lucky so far with his student neighbors and has not had major complaints.
Throughout the session, the panel and audience attempted to make suggestions, from a student’s, a resident’s and a faculty member’s perspective, to better relationships between neighbors and decrease conflicts where police become involved.
“I find that students and older adults tend to keep to themselves,” said Derek Shugar, one of the student representatives on the panel. Alexandra Gennerella, the other student seated on the panel, agreed with his statement and added that this behavior is even more prevalent on South Campus because it is a much more private setting than for borough residents.
“Each year, I try to meet the new neighbors on the day they move in,” said Sandy Young, a 28-year resident of the borough. “This year, I wasn’t home that day and now don’t know who exactly lives next door because of visitors and friends who also go in and out of the house.”
“I usually meet them when it snows, because everyone needs help pushing their cars out,” said resident Woody Lathbury.
“Snow helps!” added Young and laughed along with the panel and audience.
Several panel representatives and other residents in the audience suggested making the effort to go out and meet your neighbors and create positive initial relations.
“With computers and cell phones, I think this generation has trouble with face to face communication,” said Chris Brenner, Assistant Director of Sykes Student Union. Klingensmith added that it’s difficult because it’s a 12-month process and it happens every year.
A student in the audience asked the residents on the panel if, when calling the police, their intention is to break-up the party or punish their neighbors and the unanimous answer was to ‘break-up the party.’ This led to conversation about disrespectful roommates who put their entire house at risk of fines and violations when having parties.
“As a roommate, you don’t want to have to police your friends.you tend to ride it out to avoid the conflict,” said Klingensmith, referring to her similar experiences throughout college.
“People ask if you can fix this.my answer is always ‘not today,'” said Jones in closing of what he felt was a beneficial panel conversation. He suggested to go out and have conversations with roommates and neighbors like this one and to attend Town Gown meetings.
Loretta MacAlpine, Director or WCU Public Relations, along with Brenner, also suggested using the Off Campus and Commuter Association office and Web site, which has information about being a good neighbor.