Fairfield residents gathered at a town hall with Fairfield University and Lantern Point Association representatives on Jan. 23 to address the fallout of December’s SantaCon. Throughout the session, residents voiced personal safety concerns and concerns about the event’s environmental impact on the coastal ecosystem. 

First Selectman Bill Gerber began the event by stating “we have to avoid human tragedy.” 

“I saw young adults collapsed in the street. I heard from many people that they almost ran these young adults over. And in one instance, a car full of young adults almost ran a family over,” he described.  

Selectman Gerber also brought up the “environmental tragedy” that occurred at the beach as a result of students who trashed the beach. Even though a beach cleanup was scheduled for the next day, Gerber explained that “trash of that magnitude dumped on the beach is going to go out into the sound with high tide. There were two tides that came in and washed that trash out to the sound.” 

After panelists spoke, residents in attendance were invited to share their suggestions on how to make SantaCon a more “livable experience.” 

Among suggestions, the avoidance of human tragedy was a prominent theme. Fairfield resident, Ben Rosenbloom, who has lived in Fairfield for well over ten years added that “Sacred Heart is being sued by one of their students who was in the Uber who got [hit] by another drunk Sacred Heart student.” 

He then questioned, “Are you going to wait for a Fairfield University student to end up in the morgue before we do something serious about SantaCon?”  

Townspeople also offered suggestions which included seeking to expel the students involved with SantaCon, revoking leases, moving the leasing age to 25, increasing police presence, arresting students, charging for SantaCon, as well as moving SantaCon on campus. 

Resident Lucas Scholhamer asked President of the Lantern Point Association Chris Tymniak, “Are there plans to evict the tenants who hosted the parties at the three waterfront houses who were clearly hosting?” He then asked Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson ‘97, MBA, “Are there plans to withhold or suspend students from walking at graduation?” To which Tymniak responded that he was not prepared to answer those questions and Anderson stated, “Let’s talk after.”

Before the floor was open to the public, Anderson shared that Fairfield University implemented suggestions raised during a Fairfield Beach Road joint stakeholders meeting prior to SantaCon. 

For example, “on the same day of SantaCon, the University directly spent 150,000 dollars on ticketed events counterprogramming to keep students away from the beach.”

“We put an event on campus, we created a ‘Winter Fest.’  In partnership with The Grape, we hosted an event. We tried it, but it’s not what the students wanted. Drinking on college campuses is a problem nationwide,” she stated. 

The university also spent over 10,000 dollars hiring significant police and fire personnel, as well as planned and had University personnel present at a beach cleanup the next day.

Anderson reminded those in attendance that “it’s important to recognize that off-campus students are private residents living on private property that is not controlled by the university. […] Federal law also restricts the University’s ability to sanction or discipline certain acts outside of its campus.”

Still, because Fairfield seniors rent the houses on the beach and invite Fairfield students, resulting in parties that overflow into other beach residents’ private property, as well as onto public roads, residents claim that the University shares responsibility.   

Many residents brought up the criminality of Fairfield students’ acts. One stated, “What Fairfield University students are doing on the beach – littering, publicly urinating, driving under the influence, etc. – is against the law.” His statement was met with applause. 

“Maybe we have to zip-tie thirty kids and have that on social media,” adds another resident.

Amanda Morgan, a resident of Fairfield and professor at Fairfield University made her voice heard at the event. “Fairfield University’s marketing materials are full of references to live at the beach. The University is dependent on the community’s value for attracting students. My students say the beach draws them to the University.” 

Another Fairfield resident credited Fairfield University’s culture as a root cause of the results of SantaCon. “There is a culture at Fairfield University where students think they are entitled to these things. I have heard multiple students yell at me when I’m on my porch that this is what I get for living next to Fairfield University students,” states Ashley Scholhamer. 

“When they are urinating on my property, they are urinating on the sand my daughter plays in,” she concludes. 

Even though Anderson maintains that “nearly 70% of documented incidents were not Fairfield University students,” a twenty-one-year-long resident of Fairfield Beach Road believes that “the students do not show much responsibility, and frankly I don’t think the University shows as much responsibility as they should.”       

Junior Ariana McKernan offers her thoughts on SantaCon. “Other similar ‘darties’ that have taken place at the point are contained to Fairfield students. Due to the scale Santacon has grown to, guests from other schools attend and do not feel the repercussions of disrupting local resources and residents.”

She believes that the University has no ability to take control of SantaCon. “It would be difficult for the University to take control of such an event when they don’t have control over a large portion of the crowd which does not attend Fairfield.”

In a statement shared with The Mirror after the town forum, Anderson states that “During the upcoming Fairfield Beach Road Joint Stakeholders meeting in early February, I will again explain to the Beach Resident Associations that Fairfield University Student Conduct Code does apply to all University students both on and off campus, and behavior off-campus, documented by the Fairfield Police Department, is processed through University officials and the Dean of Students office.”

However, Anderson holds that “the University would like to have continued dialogue with students on and off campus on the role events play in their experience, and students’ role in planning events that are safer and more manageable for the extended community.” 

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