London struggles with how to deal with rowdy student behaviour and stereotypes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western Students: stereotypes

London is a home away from home for tens of thousands of college and university students, but do permanent London residents think students have overstayed their welcome?

Issues between residents and students have existed as long as they have shared a city.

Heated words over the summer by student and community leaders was topped by violent near-riots on Fleming Drive near Fanshawe College as recently as this past weekend " tensions are mounting.

In July, Ward 7 Councillor Walter Lonc “declare[d] war” in The London Free Press after a resident called him about the mess left after a student party " beer bottles and pizza boxes littering a lawn.

One month later, Ryan Gauss, president of the King’s University College Students’ Council said university students will be driven out of London since they are unfairly targeted by politicians, police and city hall. He called it a crisis for the city of London.

Gauss told the Free Press students feel assaulted by inflammatory language; the restriction of parking near King’s; talk of enforcing a student code of conduct off campus and the police crackdown Project Speakeasy " now known as Project LEARN.

On Sept. 10 the London Police Service responded to Fleming Drive, where parties spilled from homes onto the street; beer bottles were thrown at police, and people were destroying property. One student was restrained through the use of a taser.

About a month later, police broke up fight at 900 Fanshawe Blvd. at 2 a.m. where two men were stabbed and a third had a beer bottle smashed into his head.

Residents are expressing frustration over issues they consider chronic to student housing. The list of concerns from the city is lengthy.

“The first two weeks of school I probably had 100 different calls,” Nancy Branscombe, Ward 6 councillor, says.

Her ward includes a high number of students around the university. “Many of the calls might be on the same issue, but it is a lot of noise [complaint] calls.”

There is an often-repeated story by councillors of an elderly woman who had to sleep on her kitchen floor to escape the noise from her student neighbours.

“My ward is downtown and we have a lot of students coming out of the bar at night and waking people up on the way home,” Judy Bryant, Ward 13 councillor, says. She added the problem persists seven days of the week.

Over an eventful summer, the city partnered with the parties involved to form a Town and Gown committee to investigate possible solutions to student and resident concerns.

“A couple of years ago I was approached by residents around the university who felt they were at the end of their rope and were frustrated that ongoing issues had no resolution,” London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best says.

“We needed a Town and Gown Committee that had some standing at city hall, that could really give us the resources and the right people around the table to make some things happen.”

The Town and Gown Committee met every two weeks over the summer, and meets twice a month now. It includes city councillors, planners, by-law officers, police, university and college administration, neighbourhood associations and student councils.

Listening in at a Town and Gown meeting, it is clear everyone involved agrees it’s a minority of students who are responsible for disturbing the peace.

“I’ve said it 100 times, maybe 200 times, when we talk about these issues it is a very small minority of students that are creating the problem,” DeCicco-Best says.

“I’ve never had anybody tell me that they don’t like having students in their neighbourhoods,” Bryant says.

Despite general agreement a minority of students are at fault, all students tend to be painted with the same brush.

“It just so happens all the incidents we run into are student related,” Lonc says. “I’m just surprised we got through September without any problems in Ward 7.”

“There is a certain number of people that are really quite bothered they come across as being anti-student,” says Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services at Western, who regularly attends a number of community meetings on Western’s behalf. She added, “[Residents] do realize it’s a complex issue.”

“People have to cope with the daily irritations of living in proximity to a large number of students. It’s not that some people are anti-student,” Branscombe says. “Because of these daily irritations, people are frustrated and they lash out.”

“I think there is a challenge and a misunderstanding between the long-term residents of London and students,” David Simmonds, VP-university affairs for the University Students’ Council, explains.

“Residents will often say students run down their neighbourhoods.

“There are certain individuals on city council who talk about the student problem. There are a number of councillors who don’t feel that way.”

However, some councillors still associate serious criminal activity, such as the slaying of a Brampton man by a Western student on Ambleside Drive, with student housing issues.

“We had that killing on Ambleside. It’s another case of students occupying a house where there is no owner and the party gets out of control,” Lonc says. “It’s the same scenario that seems to crop up.”

Bryant told the Town and Gown Committee she thinks the problem will get worse before it gets better.

Bryant explains the breadth of areas where student issues require police intervention concerned her.

“There are little bits of the city that can pop up at any time. Fleming Drive, Richmond, Oxford, Castlegrove, Broughdale,” Bryant says.

“I think it is chronic,” Branscombe said of the issues. “I don’t think it’s ever going to go away entirely.”

Simmonds argues a lack of communication is one of the root problems with perceptions of students.

“[Poor communication] creates a hodgepodge effect where no one understands each other and so let’s yell at each other.”

For Simmonds, the language being used is a big part of shifting perceptions. He fights terms like ‘student problem’ and ‘ghettos’ because of the negative connotation and the likelihood of labeling all students, including the majority who behave in an upstanding fashion.

At the last Town and Gown meeting Fanshawe Student Union President Travis Mazereeuw stated the issue was not with ‘bad’ students but with ‘undereducated’ students.

Simmonds says language at Town and Gown is shifting away from the ‘student problem.’

“We’re dealing with it and we’re seeing change and that’s encouraging,” Simmonds says.

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