News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 25, 2011

FLASHPOINT: Collegiate relations committee proposal addresses neighborhood ills

Fred Nation
Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — With the beginning of the school year, it is apparent that Terre Haute is a college town in many respects, especially for those who live in the Farrington’s Grove neighborhood, south of downtown. Many students live in the area and a large number of them live in fraternity houses affiliated with both Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Although there are some sorority houses in neighborhoods adjacent to ISU’s campus, the vast majority of Greek system houses in Terre Haute are occupied by young men.

While students are responsible neighbors for the most part, sometimes their exuberance overflows onto the yards and streets — celebrating the beginning of the school year, rush, a home football game, or just plain partying.

The residents of Farrington’s Grove are an understanding bunch. Many are connected to our local colleges and university. If they wanted a very quiet life, they would live in another neighborhood. Most understand that fraternities provide a service by occupying grand old homes for which there is a limited market today. Fraternities also help out with neighborhood clean-ups and do other service projects.

However, sometimes things get out of hand. Thirty-nine underage drinkers were cited recently at a party in Farrington’s Grove. The first weekend that ISU was back, police had to cruise South Sixth Street to break up hundreds of students spilling onto the street, many of whom were underage drinkers.

From reports of neighbors, these situations are becoming more common and they need to be addressed in a responsible manner. The neighborhood is already stressed by lax code enforcement, some uncaring landlords, and a growing number of vacant, abandoned properties.

If elected mayor, I will appoint a Terre Haute Collegiate Relations Committee that will bring representatives of our city, colleges and university, police and neighborhoods to the table to solve our shared problems. This committee will work together to establish expectations for behavior and deal with frictions between neighbors and the students who live among them, fostering open communication and building community.

Beginning in the early 1970s, colleges and universities stopped acting “in place of parents” on their campuses. One of the consequences was that institutions took little responsibility for students living off campus, especially fraternities. Fraternities are an important part of the life of both ISU and Rose-Hulman. Frat brothers forge relationships, often do better in school and, importantly, stay in school in greater numbers. All institutions of higher learning want to retain more students and see them reach the finish line of graduation.

ISU is evolving in its attitude toward its responsibilities to fraternities and is willing to step up to the plate. My proposal will create a forum where personal responsibility can be increased, guidelines developed, expectations established and problems worked out.

Hopefully, as the university becomes more involved with promoting fraternities, there will be action toward encouraging creation of a fraternity row closer to or on the campus of ISU, with houses built that are designed to meet the modern needs of a large group of people living together. Such a district would be good for the university, good for the fraternities, and good for the community.

With planning and forethought, Farrington’s Grove could strengthen its identity as an historic neighborhood of restored homes, positioning itself for another century of residential living convenient to downtown and the university.

While not all of the behavior problems in Farrington’s Grove and other neighborhoods can be blamed on fraternities or on college students, this will be a good starting point. In the last century it was called “town and gown.” Now, in an age where students are empowered and ready to sit at the table with administrators, city officials, police and neighborhood representatives, it is called conflict resolution. Or more properly, conflict prevention.

It is the job of a mayor to lead, not to follow. This problem has worsened over the last few years, and it is time to take the proper steps to solve it. The Farrington’s Grove neighborhood deserves this kind of leadership, the schools that add so much intellectual and economic vitality to our community deserve it, and the students who make their home here in Terre Haute deserve it.