WESTFIELD, Mass. (WESTFIELD NEWS) – At a March 24th meeting of the Westfield State University Neighborhood Advisory Board at Landsdowne Place, the University-leased apartment complex on Thomas Street which houses around 200 students, city residents vented their fed-up frustrations with the unruly behavior of members of the student populace to school officials, claiming that many WSU Owls turn the city’s downtown into a cesspit of public urination and rampant rowdiness on weekends.
When the story was picked up by the Associated Press, that students residing off-campus began to vent some frustration of their own, wondering among themselves, in conversation and on social media, whether they would be able to have their voices heard.
Of the almost 5,000 students who attend the university, a small percentage of students actually reside in rented off-campus apartments, and it is these students who feel as though they are being unfairly targeted.
“In my opinion, I think a lot of people think it’s a joke,” said Patrick Barrera, a senior from Canton, who resides near Landsdowne. “It’s bigger than just off-campus students. It’s kids, but it’s also townies (being rowdy) too. The college has been here longer than any of the residents who are complaining.”
Barrera added that the city’s considerable student population pumps a lot of money into the city’s economy, and believes that changes may be on the horizon for WSU’s off-campus contingent.
“There may be more community policing,” he said. “Landlords may have to crack down more. But kids just have to be more respectful.”
Students who live on campus and venture into the city on the weekends to party and blow off steam are perpetrating what many students who pay rent and buy goods in the community feel are actions deemed offensive by city residents.
“My point is that it seems that blame is just being put on off-campus students, said Graham Kilanowich, a senior from New Bedford. “No parties occur on campus, so on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, kids go off campus, so it’s not just ‘off-campus kids.’”
Kilanowich added that he was “taken aback” by the media attention, and that school officials and city police blamed the estimated 500-800 students living in off-campus rental housing, and placed no blame on students residing in Landsdowne Place.
“When you have a school with 4,000/5,000 kids, to say 200 kids in Landsdowne are not to blame? It’s everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
Other students who have lived in Landsdowne and now live in off-campus rentals admit that many of the residents of the Thomas Street complex don’t exactly have wings, dress in all white, or wear halos.
“I live at Courthouse Square now, but I lived at Landsdowne last year,” said Craig Levine, a senior from Belmont. “Landsdowne has really become the epicenter of this controversy, but it’s been going on for years. As long as it (Landsdowne) has been here, it has (students partying) been going on .”
Many off-campus students feel as though their positive contributions to the community are lost on many city residents who focus instead on the misbehavior of a small percentage of their peers.
“When people say cities are ‘college towns’, this is the epitome of a college town,” said Erin Cooney, a senior from West Newbury. “There have been so many new eateries and restaurants (opened), the bridges, the rotary downtown. I’m not saying we bring in all the revenue, but this is a college town.”
“We each give our landlord $300 a month, and then pay for gas, cable and electricity,” said Justin Kennedy, a junior from Dobbs Ferry, New York, who resides near some of the downtown watering holes, and says it isn’t just college kids acting up. “There are townies and homeless people, in addition to students. Kids who live on campus are cooped up in their rooms, and come out on the weekends. I don’t know why this is being made into a big deal.”
Regardless of where these loud and lewd Owls live, students such as Joseph Shisler of Hanover believe the offensive actions of a few bad apples shouldn’t sully the positives the university students provide to the community.
“The actions committed by a few drunk students shouldn’t lead to a generalization that all Westfield students are negatively impacting the community,” said Shilser, a senior Communication major. “Westfield students reach out to the community, bring revenue to local businesses, and give the town a life and buzz that it wouldn’t have without the college here.”
Shisler added that the “12 hours of mayhem” referenced by Westfield Police Sgt. Eric Hall at the March 24 meeting, “from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings”, is brought to the community by on-campus students who travel into the city, are refused entrance to off-campus parties, and then walk around aimlessly, which is when problems arise.
“There is still every other hour of the week that we are positively contributing to our community,” he said.