Howard: Relations ‘getting better’ between students and Evanston

Sean Lavery

Almost two weeks after several off-campus tailgates received national media attention, about 25 students attended a town hall meeting Tuesday night intended to address town-gown issues.

Dean of Students Burgwell Howard sent an e-mail to the off-campus listserv on Oct. 14, which included testimonials from Evanston residents angered by student conduct before and after the previous weekend’s football game against Purdue. The popular gossip site Gawker obtained the e-mail and posted it.

On Tuesday, Howard casually addressed the students scattered around Ryan Family Auditorium. Referring to himself as a “Gawker rockstar,” he endeavored to put the issues facing off-campus students and non-student Evanston residents into perspective. He said the blame does not rest solely on students, but rather on a unique set of circumstances that has caused tension between neighbors.

“There are a lot of scam artist landlords,” Howard said. “Some are good, but they are few and far between.”

Howard explained that many Evanston families took advantage of the seller’s market early in the 2000s as a chance to downsize and move downtown, selling their homes to landlords looking for property in the process. Many landlords converted four-person homes into three-section apartments to house up to more than 10 people, increasing population density and affecting city services such as trash pickup. All of that strained relationships with non-student neighbors who saw their blocks transformed, Howard said.

“We haven’t articulated the density issue,” Howard said. “What we’re seeing is that the character of the community has changed, and that’s not necessarily the students’ fault.”

Students do, however, have control over a few key issues Evanstonians are concerned about, he said.

“The primary issue is noise,” Howard said. “Mostly nighttime noise, but also daytime noise.”

Part of the issue is that students are unaware of how loud they are, he said. Noise that reaches more than 50 feet away from the source is considered to be in violation of Evanston code, Howard said.

Many students attended the meeting to voice their concerns about living off-campus, with several taking issue with the behavior of non-student residents.

One student claimed a resident of Evanston frequently walks her dog on her block, yet fails to pick up after the dog. Another student, Medill junior Matt Connolly, said he did not feel welcome at a block party he attended after one man accused him of throwing a party with 200 people in his apartment.

“There was a lot of exaggeration going on. A lot of people were upset with us just because we were students,” Connolly said. “We need more information on what our rights are, or what are some different avenues we can take in case someone is exaggerating or lying to the police or the administration about parties that were thrown.”

Howard admitted residents can act unreasonably, yet attributed the attitude to general lack of knowledge about the University on the part of residents.

“Some residents may not even know what Dillo Day is, only that it is disruptive,” Howard said. “One woman’s first reaction when I introduced myself was, ‘Cancel Dillo Day,’ Obviously if we did that, then students would make their own parties.”

Howard stressed, however, that not all residents are upset with NU students.

He told attendees about one resident who had approached him at an event the night before, and said, “You have not heard me complain one bit this year. The students are great.”

Howard is looking to build an advisory board with both students and non-residents to better address the need for more open communication. Connolly agreed that there was a need for more dialogue between students and residents.

“It’s church-going 8-year-olds against frat boys,” he said.

Howard was optimistic about the future of the discussion, and said he looked forward to a meeting with aldermen later this week.

“There are allies out there,” he said. “Even critics are acknowledging things are getting better.”

Students are encouraged to attend the meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in Tech Lecture Room 3.

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