The Noise Next Door

Photo by Daniel Aguirre
Photo by Daniel Aguirre

It’s no secret that some Manhattan College students like to have fun and get rowdy on the weekends, just like students at any other college.

But this penchant for partying leads to cases of noisy, destructive and (in some cases) illegal behaviors off-campus and in the surrounding community. Riverdale residents are fed up and, more importantly, working with the college on what to do to curb the noise and crack down on illicit activity outside the campus gates.

Jean Rincon is a 15 year resident of Riverdale and an active leader in the community, which has been organizing over the past year to urge the college, local law enforcement and politicians to take action on the issue of student behavior off-campus.

“If somebody had said last year, ‘Oh, my kid’s thinking of going to Manhattan College,’ I would have said, ‘Are you kidding me? They’ll get in with a crowd. They’ll be drinking all the time,’” Rincon said.

This alcohol-driven behavior is what neighbors are dealing with, night in and night out but particularly on the weekends, as students pass through streets to journey back from bars and house parties. Noise, public urination, visible sexual conduct, littering and vandalism are just a few of the transgressions they’ve seen students commit.

Neighbors have been actively documenting these behaviors with photos, videos and written descriptions on Rincon’s blog, “Sleepless in Riverdale.”

With a ‘Neighbors’ Bill of Rights,’ signed by 150 local residents, Rincon and two other community members attended a student assembly meeting at MC last month to ask students for certain basic rights relating to their quality of life.

“It was horrible last year in the spring. It was just such a blight on the neighborhood,” Rincon said. “Some of us feel it’s gotten better, because the college really has taken a lot of measures, and I do get the sense that they really do care about the problem and they’re as baffled as we are.”

Nicholas Weyland, student body president, led the meeting that Rincon presented at and said that he “personally didn’t find anything unreasonable” in her bill of rights.

“They specifically said that it’s not that they don’t want us partying or hanging out with our friends outside,” Weyland said. “There comes a point in time, a span of time during the day, or a day of the week, that maybe you should have a little bit more respect of the people to your left and people to your right.”

Weyland said that he feels this is an issue of respect.

“It’s easy for students to say, ‘hey, they live on a college campus,’” he said. “But what about, ‘our campus is in the middle of a neighborhood?’”

To hit the issue head on, Weyland and student government are assembling an ad-hoc committee to work on relations with the community and what can be done to cut down on rowdy off-campus behavior.

But part of the problem with off-campus noise is that there are simply more students living there, and more students equates to noise.

“We’ve never had that many students in residence halls and we’ve never had this many students overall. We’re 15 percent larger than we were five years ago,” Manhattan College President Brennan O’Donnell said. “We need to recognize that we’re bigger and we’re taking up more space.”

So, one of the key themes in looking at the college’s strategic master plan is examining ways to keep as many students as possible in campus housing for all four years.

“We only became a majority residential college in 2008,” O’Donnell said. “So now, the project is to be a really, really good residential college.”

The benefits would be to have more students engage in campus life, and to reduce some of the outpouring of students living off-campus and causing disruption to the neighbors, which O’Donnell sees as a serious concern.

“The conduct outside out of the quad and the classrooms….and in the neighborhood matters,” he said. “Whether they [students] want to or not, they’re representing the college and their fellow students. It’s just a fact that the college’s reputation in the neighborhood very often rests on activity that shows us not at our best.”

College administration is actively working to handle complaints from the community and adjudicate cases of misbehavior using the student code of conduct’s ‘Good Neighbor Policy’

The policy, instituted only a few years ago, clearly states the right of the college to regulate off-campus behavior.

It states: “Manhattan College is located within an urban environment surrounded by several residential neighborhoods. Guidelines for off-campus conduct have been established in order to uphold standards of behavior consistent with the community standards of behavior for Manhattan College students.”

But enforcement doesn’t end with MC administration.

“We need to work with local law enforcement to make sure that they’re helping us and partnering with us in order to make sure we reduce incidents,” O’Donnell said. “It requires a multifaceted approach.”

Richard Satterlee, Ph.D. and vice president for student life, is at the forefront of finding a blend of options to work with the community on student behavior.

“We have worked diligently with the 50th [precinct] to…up their support,” Satterlee said. “We’ve also worked with them around big events when we know a lot of partying happens. I think we had a very successful partnership,” with the spring concert.

As for what’s being done at MC, “we’re putting more resources in identifying where students live. We put more cameras on Overlook so [we] can identify students– I’m gonna be completely transparent about that–that’s so that we can identify the problem,” Satterlee said.

All cases where students can be appropriately identified are being adjudicated through the college by Dean of Students Michael Carey.

College administration hopes this multi-pronged approach will be effective in improving neighborhood conditions.

“We talk proudly about our sense of community….and then we’re perceived by our immediate community as being obnoxious, then we need to be careful about patting ourselves on the back,” O’Donnell said.