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Bridging the Gap Between Student and Resident

October 9, 2013

by Joe Bianchino

The stark contrast between the Pine Hills neighborhood’s year-round residents and the student population that has inserted itself into their midst has, at times, yielded a contentious relationship between the two.  College students, some would argue, are far too inconsiderate of those around them.  They’re far too drunk, far too loud, and far too morally loose, far too often and far too late.

Evidence of such reckless behavior could be viewed on North Lake Avenue between Washington and Western last Saturday around 2:30 a.m., when a gaggle of college-aged persons were observed stumbling, screaming, and urinating down a public street.  Too boisterous for their own good, their shouting and stampeding awoke several North Lake residents, one of whom video taped the, scene, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to her contacts at the University of Albany.

On Wednesday, the Committee on University and Community Relations, whose mission is to build relationships and soothe tensions met to discuss the current state of affairs.

In the humble conference room of the Albany Police Department’s Center Station at 536 Western Ave., the committee convened its October meeting.   It was a scattered meeting, one that served largely as an update on recent and upcoming events, and local projects.

Some of the events discussed on Wednesday included the October 27 Pine Hills cleanup, a joint venture of the University at Albany and The College of Saint Rose; the upcoming anniversary of the Midtown Neighborhood Watch; the arrest of an individual in relation to a pair of attempted abductions that took place at the corners of O’Leary and Western Avenue earlier this week; and the start of a flyer campaign to educate residents about what to do in the case of a fire.

The wide-ranging agenda touched on various facets of life in the Pine Hills, a function of the group’s broad goals.

“I think this is kind of a nexus of all these groups being together so that we have a dialogue to identify what problems and challenges there are when college students live in local neighborhoods,” said Thomas Gebhardt, the committee chairperson and director of personal safety and off campus affairs at UAlbany.   “It’s bringing everyone together to try and improve the neighborhood and the safety for everyone involved.”

The Committee on University and Community Relations meets to discuss current events on October 9, 2013/Joe Bianchino

The Committee on University and Community Relations meets to discuss current events on October 9, 2013/Joe Bianchino

Wednesday’s meeting served as an example of Gebhardt’s vision, with a diverse sample of the Pine Hills population in attendance.   Community members and officials, students and school officials, and police were all present, working together for common goals.

“The first goal is to improve college and university community relations…and… to improve quality of life,” said Gebhardt.

It’s a constant struggle said Leah Golby,  a council member for the 10th Ward, which includes the majority of the Saint Rose campus. “Every year at the start of the school year there are going to be issues with students living off campus, having parties, not remembering that they live in a neighborhood,” she said, pointing to the relevance of the committee’s mission.

“They produce a number of these brochures for any number of safety topics…We send them out to our students…and so it gets the information in front of our students….We’ve found a lot of the information from this committee is very helpful,” said Dick Clarkson, assistant vice president for college operations at the Albany Medical College. He underscored the importance of the committee, citing the good it has done for the students at his school.

Ptl. Janet Zalatan, delivered a report  about a rash of cell phone thefts on the corner of Western and Quail and the 200-block of Quail Street which prompted a discussion about a partnership with the  Albany Police Department to write and disseminate a brochure on personal safety.

“This particular committee has proven itself on bettering relationships and improving quality of life,” she said.  “By information sharing, by hearing different points of views, to hear all sides and come up with a plan.”

All sides would, in this situation include the students, whose attendance and willingness to help is important.  “We really want to connect Albany students with the public and create an amicable relationship,” said Kimberly Kaufmann, the community engagement chair of the University at Albany’s Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program.  “We think of ourselves as the safe haven for students and off campus community members can call or look for outreach.”

For Gebhardt, that issue of safety is what’s most important, indeed, it is the guiding philosophy behind his committee’s actions. “If we can just prevent one crime or one fire from happening, we’re certainly going to do it.” -30-


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