When 1000 UVM students rioted on the Redstone campus to "celebrate" the Red Sox beating the Yankees, few people in Burlington's Neighborhood Action Project were surprised. They've been dealing with escalating student violence and rowdy behavior since Labor Day.
The 6-year-old group is composed of city officials, residents and university representatives. They meet bi-weekly in the Howard building on Pearl Street to compare notes on noise, vandalism and quality-of-life issues in the heavily student-populated area bounded by North Winooski Avenue and North Willard, Pearl and North streets. At the beginning of the school year, they sponsor nighttime neighborhood walks to introduce themselves and identify party spots.
The morning after the riot, which caused an estimated $40,000 to $60,000 worth of damage, UVM president Daniel Fogel circulated an email to university and community leaders declaring that the students involved would be disciplined. A copy of his missive was passed around the NAP meeting Thursday night.
Though official reports say the damage was confined to campus, the 14 NAP members who attended reported lots of noise and broken bottles on their streets. The NAPsters -- most of them middle-aged parents and homeowners -- say the kids have been particularly rowdy this year, especially earlier this fall. Residents traded horror stories about students peeing on their lawns and drag racing on North Willard Street. One woman told of a friend who rents a hotel room every weekend to escape the late-night noise.
In late September, one NAP member (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent an email to fellow NAPsters and Burlington city councilors describing a particularly gross offense: Someone defecated in a nearby alley, then smeared feces on her house and her backyard grill. There was no proof that students were involved but, given the neighborhood's hostile climate, they're the prime suspects.
In fact, there seems to be a general consensus among UVM and city officials that this year has been especially trying. UVM's Gail Shampnois told the group, "I really feel this fall strained and stressed a lot of our partnerships." Lieutenant Jennifer Morrison of the Burlington Police Department reported that the current batch of students has, in fact, run afoul of the law more than most. Between August 15 and October 8, the BPD issued 30 percent more tickets than during the same period in 2003. But Morrison noted that after the first few weeks of school, things had quieted down a little -- at least until the riot.
"They think they somehow have a right to engage in that kind of behavior," NAP member Ian Galbraith said Thursday night. Galbraith emphasized that he frankly doesn't care if underage college kids are drinking and partying -- it's the ruckus that ticks him off. "You don't need to make noise or to engage in some of this other behavior to have a good time," he said.
But there was only one student present to hear Galbraith's admonition: Kelly Chamberlin, a UVM senior who chairs the school's Committee on Legislative Action. Though the meetings are open to the public, students, with their hectic class schedules -- and social lives -- rarely attend.
When they do, it's not always a positive experience. Junior Matthew Silverman of Philadelphia came to a meeting at the beginning of October. Silverman is the op-ed editor of the Vermont Cynic, but he didn't tell the NAP members that he was taking notes for a story.
Judging by the negative response at the most recent NAP meeting, his October 12 center-spread story about the NAP, "Citizens By Day, Stewards of Silence by Night," only inflamed the situation. "Students see the NAP as a group of party-poopers," he wrote. "College students want to go out late on the weekend, party, and have a good time. In a sense, this ritual is a defining characteristic of higher learning in the United States and likely in the world at large."
Silverman, who doesn't plan to attend another NAP meeting, said in a phone interview that he thought the riot was "incredibly stupid," but he still thinks the NAP's standards are unreasonable. "If you have a family, that's just not a good neighborhood for you to live in," he said. "Maybe that shouldn't be the case, but that is the case."