According to this year’s Princeton’s Review The Best 357 Colleges, which gathers its figures on student responses, Fairfield University ranks number one in the nation for “Town-Gown Relations are Strained”.
But whatever problems still exist, there is a general consensus from students, year-round beach residents, and administration that the situation has improved greatly.
“This [Princeton Review’s ranking] is simply from the perspective of the students, and we all know that many feelings can carry over from previous years,” said Dave Parrot, president of the Student Beach Resident Association, SBRA.
Students currently living at the beach can’t account for a hostile environment that would be deemed worst in the country. “I’ve seen a good deal of noise complaints, can’t say I’ve seen anything more exciting,” said Tomasz Grodzki ’05, a resident of the Doghouse.
Duane Melzer, coordinator of off-campus students, said while underage possession of alcohol, fighting and vandalism are almost always present, the main concern is the noise.
Vincent Biondi, beach resident for the past 25 years, believes that while there had been significant improvement, “the vast majority of it was compulsory,” he said.
Biondi and his neighbors have spent approximately $50,000 to $60,000 taking Lantern Point owners to court, he said.
“We didn’t do it because they were breaking the law. We did it because of damages,” said Biondi.
Decline in property value because of the presence of students was one of the reasons, according to Biondi.
He also said that because of the efforts of him and his neighbors, Fairfield’s judicial system has become involved, the police are doing more “proactive enforcement and they [Fairfield University] got Duane [Melzer]”.
Students throw “unreasonable bashes,” he said, and “500 people at 3:00 A.M. means those people are in the streets with a lot of alcohol in them.” Some consequences of this include alcohol poisoning, and disturbance of the peace “in a legal sense,” said Biondi.
What constitutes as a legitimate disturbance of the peace? One female senior remembered an incident in which a few people were on the back porch smoking cigarettes and reciting movie lines. Her neighbor called the police.
The constant presence of police has become a familiarity with beach residents. “Cops all around are pretty strict but understandable at the same time,” said Grodzki. “They only act on their authority if you’re a total maniac or residents bother them,” he said.
The Fairfield Police Department has declined to comment on this matter at the present time.
It is possible to have a good relationship with year-round beach residents, as Chris Mottla, ’05 of the Sea Ranch who invited his neighbors to a party at his house.
“They came over and drank out of the keg, did an ice luge and then gave us a platter of Subway [sandwiches],” he said. “If you get to know your neighbors, they’ll love you,” he said.
Casey Ammerman ’05, who lives at the Blue Balls, also has pleasant interactions with her neighbors. “We tell him [the neighbor] when we are going to have parties and he is fine with it,” she said.
Kevin Trout ’05 said there was only one occasion in which there was conflict with his neighbors- his housemate was trying to take out a kayak while he was inebriated and the neighbors wanted him to wear a lifejacket against his will.
Melzer said there is a “good mix” of residents, and that some are more tolerant than others of the college lifestyle. He said there are many students who help their neighbors, some by shoveling their driveway or walkways in the winter or getting them groceries if they are unable to leave the house.
Year-round resident Carol Johnson said she “couldn’t ask for nicer, more intelligent, kinder neighbors- when they’re sober.” Johnson sees the biggest problem as the “noise pollution” every night and is grateful that police break up the parties so she can sleep at night, she said.
“Nobody means to make noise, but when you’re drunk you shout,” said Johnson. However she has seen improvement from last year to this year in terms of cleanliness of the beach. “They are cleaning up their messes and the beach is glorious,” she said.
Biondi said that “up to five years ago, it was in your face. They’d be obnoxious,” he said, recalling many instances in which someone had defecated on his front lawn.
Biondi also said “I’m not the only person that’s happened to.”
“The complaints from year-round residents are down and so is the amount of tickets handed out by the police,” said Parrot. “This year I definitely believe that Fairfield University beach residents have improved their standing in the community,” he said.
Parrot, who is living his second year at the Blue Light, has experienced “poor relations with neighbors in the past,” he said.
“Last year my house as well as neighboring houses received letters from the dean about neighbors complaining about us,” he said. “We used to get calls from our landlord weekly about some complaint or another. Some of the complaints were legitimate and many of them were not.”
“This year we have the same neighbors and we get along fine,” he said.
Many beach residents feel that the situation has improved because there is a majority of seniors leaving at the beach this year.
Biondi’s wife Kathy Siano, who is living next to the same group of girls for the second year, said “The difference in maturity between juniors and seniors is astonishing”.
“I respect Fairfield University and am so grateful it’s predominantly seniors this year,” said Siano.
She has noticed the maturation of her neighbors, and said that “they try very hard. They have parties, they’re controlled. They’re adults”.
Martha Milcarek, assistant vice president for public relations, said she had anticipated a worse situation down the beach then she encountered. Since the two years of her position, she has “not received any calls or complaints from people at the beach,” she said.
“There has been no need for me to be involved,” said Milcarek. She also said that she “wish[ed] The Princeton Review would catch up with the reality of improved relationships” among year-round beach residents, student beach residents, and the school.
Melzer said the reputation of town-gown relations is “in the hands of the students”.
“The students here are probably the most polite and nicest students I’ve ever seen, except when they drink,” he said. And while it may be a small portion of students that repeatedly cause major disturbances, Melzer said “that handful is what people remember.”