Classes don’t start until Monday at the University at Buffalo, but lessons for students on how to be good neighbors have already begun.
Education is just one part of the approach planned for this weekend when up to 2,000 students traditionally descend on the streets of University Heights, adjacent to the UB South Campus, looking for house parties.
Whether the steps that UB officials, police and neighbors take will have any impact on the noise, vandalism, open alcohol consumption, packed houses and fights that have marked these weekends in previous years will become clear this weekend.
“I don’t want these families, these residents, to go through the same thing this year,” said University District City Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt. “We’ve been working on this as of March, and now we are in the final hour.”
At orientation in July, first-year students were required to attend programs that outlined proper behavior on and off campus, UB said.
“Before they even begin classes, the university is educating students about how they should behave in the community and why it’s important to be a responsible member of this community,” Barbara Ricotta, associate vice president for student affairs, said in a statement.
UB staff, students and administrators distributed Tuesday about 2,000 bags stuffed with information, including tips on being good neighbors, staying safe, and where to call with complaints. The deliveries went to homes in Amherst near the North Campus and two neighborhoods adjacent to the South Campus, including University Heights.
Perhaps most important, the university will slow the flood of students from the North Campus into University Heights by reducing the Stampede buses to every 20 minutes, which carry a maximum of 171 students an hour into the neighborhood. Last year, the buses ran every 10 minutes and transported up to twice that number every hour.
In addition, new bus routes also will carry students from both North and South Campus to suburban business districts, where UB officials hope the students will choose to go to movie theaters, cafes and restaurants, stores, bowling alleys and fitness centers.
This weekend, UB is offering free entertainment on the North Campus, including a movie and parties on the North Campus Friday and Saturday nights. A “Main Street in the Dark” party will be held from 10 p.m. to midnight Friday outside Goodyear Hall on the South Campus, with a DJ and free food.
If the planned calming tactics fall short, Buffalo Police say a special University Heights detail will enforce the law.
“We will definitely try to do a better job this year,” said Chief Carmen Menza of E District, which includes the South Campus and the streets immediately adjacent to it.
Police estimate up to 2,000 students roam that area each weekend night, but UB’s estimates are lower. Last September, buses transported an average of 1,425 students to the South Campus on Friday nights and about 200 fewer on Saturday nights.
Menza said police know where the parties are held and students congregate.
“The Winspear area is certainly a concentrated area where we have seen those activities in the past,” he said. “Hopefully we can do a better job of controlling and containing what is going on.”
A full week before classes started, some issues were already apparent, said Mickey Vertino, president of the University Heights Collaborative, a coalition of block clubs.
“I have already seen, while I’m walking around the neighborhood doing some things, that there are kids that are pretty wild,” he said. Neighbors have reported seeing students dancing on porch roofs without railings on Winspear Avenue.
Vertino, who was a corrections officer for 28 years, plans to walk the streets of University Heights this weekend to help keep the peace. Members of some block clubs also plan to sit on their porches or in their driveways, as they do each year, to keep the students moving and prevent theft and vandalism.
UB plans to welcome permanent residents and students alike to a Neighbor’s Day Block Party and Safety Fair from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9, in front of Hayes Hall on South Campus. Last year, the traditional UB Thunder of the East marching band parade down Winspear was re-routed to campus when neighborhood resident Fred Brace asked to see the parade permit, which organizers did not have.
The goal of the Sept. 9 party and fair is to allow students and residents to meet each other, said Daniel Ryan, director of Off-Campus Student Services.
“We want to build community and remove anonymity,” he said. “We understand that students will test the limits until there are consequences.”
Menza said he recognized that the college students are “just looking to have a good time.”
“But we really don’t want them to come into our area to do that type of behavior that is going to be disruptive to the quality of life that the citizens who live there year-round deserve,” Menza said. “Probably half of those students are underage, and they are looking for parties where they are going to be able to drink. We’re going to go and address them and arrest people as needed.”
When Buffalo Police arrest a student, they also notify UB, which then opens a case on the student.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, UB said 146 students were found responsible by the university for alcohol and disorderly conduct violations in University Heights. Of those, 112 students were assigned to community service, and provided 350 hours of work in University Heights neighborhoods, according to the university.
Vertino is already making plans to supervise and educate students who will face those sanctions.
“We’re going to be doing restorative justice,” he said. “If you cause some harm in this community, what can you do to make it right? Meet the people that you harmed, face to face.”
Residents don’t expect parties to end, said Wyatt.
“The residents know these are college students. They don’t want students to not have any parties, they just don’t want to have unruly parties that affect their property and keep them up at night.”
“We like the students, to be honest, they’re part of the community,” said Menza. “As long as they are healthy members of the community, and they help with the quality of life, we welcome them there, we want them to be there. ... We don’t want to discourage students from coming here, we just want to discourage them from coming here to be disruptive.”