BURLINGTON - Late-night disturbance is a perennial problem in Burlington's neighborhoods, thanks mainly to the throngs of college students headed between home and house parties or downtown bars.
The University of Vermont has stepped up efforts in the past two years to eliminate this "walk-by noise." One of the school's most visible campaigns is the "Have a Heart" initiative. The peer-to-peer program places student volunteers at various intersections on weekend evenings - most recently last Friday. These student ambassadors distribute late-night campus bus schedules and hand out chocolate hearts to their fellow classmates. Get it? Have a heart, shut your mouth.
Gail Shampnois, director of UVM's Office of Student and Community Relations, explains that "giving the students something visual to remember and a friendly conversation" is designed to encourage them to pipe down. "When you approach students as partners," she says, "you get such a good response."
UVM junior Scott McCarty and senior Erin Renz started their "shift" at 10 p.m. on September 15. McCarty, a student government representative, and Renz, president of UVM's Panhellenic Council, which governs the school's sororities, were stationed at the corner of Main and South Prospect streets. They cheerfully intercepted students on their way downtown.
"Hey, guys," McCarty greeted a group of five UVMers. "We're doing a Have a Heart campaign to raise awareness about noise and stuff like that. On the way back up, just remember that there are, like, families who live here."
"Sure, right on," answered one. "Definitely," added another. Both took McCarty's flyers and Renz's candy hearts.
After they'd passed, McCarty offered an optimistic assessment of town-gown relations. "It's getting better," he said of the noise problem. "I think people need to give students credit. We do get stuff."
But he's also realistic. After talking with a group of six students - all in their first year, he guessed - McCarty shook his head. "Oooh, they reeked," he observed. Of what? "What do you think?" he replied. "Alcohol."
McCarty and Renz admitted that, though the university has instituted a dry-dorms policy, a number of intoxicated kids still head down the hill. And the drunk ones tend to be the loudest.
Take the girl who identified herself as a freshman from D.C. She happened by with five friends around 10:30. She accepted a heart and a flyer, and listened to Renz's pitch about walk-by noise, but she was apparently too intoxicated to care about waking the neighbors. At one point, she cut the do-gooders off mid-sentence with a wave of her hand, and wobbled from the sidewalk to the curb.
"What?" she shouted to a guy standing across Main Street on the UVM green. "Come over! Yo!"
McCarty turned to the girl's friends. "See?" he muttered. "That's what we're trying to prevent."
After they'd walked away, McCarty shrugged. "We tried," he said.
Forty-five minutes later, after McCarty and Renz had called it a night, that D.C. frosh reappeared ambling down South Willard Street. After telling her male companion she had to pee, she ducked behind three trees on the lawn of the Snelling Center for Government and started to hitch up her skirt.
Advised by a reporter that public urination is illegal in Burlington, she stopped mid-squat, perplexed.
"Is it really?" she asked quietly. At least she wasn't yelling.