Fifth ward residents discuss concerns with students’ return

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Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th). Rue Simmons led a town hall meeting Thursday to address residents concerns about students coming back to campus.

Sam Heller, Assistant City Editor

One day after Northwestern started classes, with some students returning to on- and off-campus housing, Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) held a virtual Fifth Ward town hall meeting to discuss the impact returning NU students might have on the Evanston community.

Juniors and seniors returned to campus earlier this month, with a two week quarantine period lasting from Sept. 6 to Sept. 21 and extensive COVID-19 safety guidelines to follow afterwards. Freshmen and sophomores are officially not allowed back, although many have found places to live off-campus.

Rue Simmons said she decided to hold the town hall after hearing complaints from her constituents about large private gatherings and students not wearing masks.

“I encouraged residents and students both to attend this meeting to get answers directly from the source and share feedback.”

While the 5th ward does not include any part of campus, many students’ off-campus houses are in this ward.

At the Thursday event, Dave Davis, Northwestern’s executive director of community relations, explained Northwestern’s COVID-19 testing procedure and quarantine period to attendees. Davis and Assistant Dean of Students & Director OCL Tony Kirchmeier fielded questions from residents about their concerns.

For many residents, a main point of concern was the possibility of large outdoor parties. However, Kirchmeier said there may be more rumors of off-campus parties than actual parties.

Kirchmeier said most of the party-related complaints the University has received have lacked detail and failed to specify a location. In one case, NU was informed about an off-campus party, but when Evanston Police Department arrived, none of the party’s attendees were affiliated with Northwestern, Kirchmeier said.

“I was concerned by this narrative that there is a large portion of our student community that are not following our community expectations, and that’s just not accurate,” Davis said.

Furthermore, Kirchmeier said NU has fielded more complaints about student misconduct from other students than from residents.

However, Stuart Cleland, an Evanston resident who lives next to many off-campus houses on Maple Avenue, said he’s witnessed multiple off-campus gatherings.

“I’ve seen lots of beer pong, houses that are full, some masking but not all that much, and there is very little social distancing,” Clelland said. “I’d say it’s business as usual minus about 25 percent of the activity.”

Many residents also expressed concerns about sophomores and freshmen who may have returned to Evanston and are living off campus, especially those who participate in Greek life.

While NU cannot stop students from returning to Evanston, the University does not condone the return of freshmen and sophomores. As a result, they will not be allowed back on campus, Davis said.

“I don’t know what other stronger language we could use besides putting profanity in statements,” Davis said. “We told them to stay home and not to come to Evanston, but that at the end of the day, the challenge we face is these are private citizens and they can move anywhere they want to.”

After a Wednesday announcement that Big Ten football will begin its season in late October — reversing an Aug. 11 decision to postpone the season, residents also expressed significant concern about the implications of the return of football season, including tailgating and spectators.

However, the university’s deputy director of athletics, Mike Polisky, said fans will not be allowed at the games and tailgating will not be allowed.

“We do anticipate it will be a very minor, if at all perceptive, change during these four home games,” Polisky said.

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