By Greg Allen
On Tuesday, April 4 residents of the Senior Suites and the Townhouses received an email from Vice President of Student Affairs Shannon Finning informing them of changes that will be made to the backyards of the townhouses. The changes will be effective immediately and are being made to “address the significant safety and health concerns that have come to light over the last six weeks.”
One of the safety concerns is the consumption of alcohol in mass quantities. According to Finning, since Sept. 2, 2016, 37 Springfield College students have been transported to the hospital for alcohol intoxication, and an additional eight guests of students have been transported.
Another safety concern stems from an incident that occurred a few weeks ago. On a Saturday night, a young woman who does not attend Springfield College and was under the influence of alcohol climbed the Townhouse building in an effort to get through a window. Before reaching the window, she fell off of the building, landing on the ground. According to Finning, the fall led to a compound fracture in the woman’s arm, meaning the bone was sticking out of her body.
“When you fall in that manner with the level of intoxication that she had, we are very lucky as a community that that was as bad as the injury was,” Finning said. “A couple inches differently could’ve ended in a broken neck, or something even worse.”
Finning explained that this incident was “the biggest wake-up call.” When Finning reviewed the tape from the cameras in the backyards, she realized that multiple people scale the Townhouse building. This was not a one-time incident. As one of the new changes put in place, if someone is caught climbing the Townhouses, he or she will be fined $100 and will be banned from the backyards for the remainder of the academic year. Campus Facilities is evaluating structural changes to the Townhouses in hopes of making the building unclimbable. In reviewing the videos, Finning also saw a significant amount of other inappropriate behaviors, including public urination and mistreatment of Residence Life staff and Public Safety Officers.
“Through looking at the videos,” Finning said, “I became aware of a real and serious health and safety issue at the college. I felt that it was my responsibility to do something. The safety of students is our No. 1 priority.”
Finning explained that she could have made a decision on her own. However, she said, “I believed that I alone did not have the best answer. I do believe in student voice and decision making.” With that said, Finning formed a Working Group to help address the issues. Members of the group included Director of Residence Life Robert Yanez, Chief of Police Karen Leary, the college’s Student Trustee Troy Ward, President of Student Government Association Kyle Andolina, Townhouse resident Kevin Mirando, and more.
From March 3 to March 31, the group reviewed incident reports, conducted a survey, compiled personal observations, got feedback from students, and suggested that Finning see the scene of the Townhouse backyards with her own eyes.
Finning completed the request by going to the Townhouse backyards on a Saturday night to observe the activity. When the Townhouses got shut down at midnight, Finning drove in the back of a police car to Middlesex Street where a number of students walked after the Townhouses. She ended her night at the student union, giving her the full Saturday-night-at-Springfield experience.
“It was a cold and crappy night, and there was still a lot of bad and illegal behavior going on in very public venue,” Finning said.
The Working Group provided Finning with an eight-page document of recommendations on Friday, March 31. Finning reviewed the suggestions that afternoon, spoke with President Mary-Beth Cooper, and informed Townhouse and Senior Suites residents by Tuesday evening. All students received notice of the changes Wednesday afternoon.
According to the emails, changes will include the following: Facilities will remove the side fences to the Townhouse backyard area on April 6. This will allow easier access to the backyards for students, Residence Life staff, and Public Safety officers.
Residence Life staff and Public Safety officers will conduct more rounds of the backyards. Students must have either state or student identification on them, and they must present identification to an officer if requested. Students under the age of 21 are allowed to be in the backyards, but if they are not 21, they will be asked to dump their container and leave the backyards. Students will not be documented. They just have to leave when asked. If you are 21 or older, you are allowed to responsibly consume alcohol in the backyards.
Housing and Residence Life will purchase and make lawn games available for Townhouse and Senior Suite residents to use on the grass in between the Townhouses and Senior Suites. No alcohol is permitted on the green.
Finning said, “All of this, and everything we do, is for student safety. When a campus is put on notice like this, we can’t not do something.”
After receiving notice of the changes, multiple students reacted, some positively and others negatively. Junior and 21-year-old Travis Price thinks that the changes being implemented are very fair.
“The changes aren’t really going to affect me because I am of age,” Price said. “As someone who is going to be living in the Townhouses next year, I’m happy that they’re taking down the fences. Now random people won’t be coming in and out of my house.”
However, other students are unhappy with the changes that are going to be immediately implemented.
First year student Morgan Devine said, “I’m livid. We just want to have a good time and decompress after a tough week of classes and endless stress. I don’t think this will stop underage drinking. If kids want to drink, they’ll just find somewhere else to do it–probably off campus.”
No matter how students are responding, Finning has made it clear that safety is her top priority, and it will continue to be in the near and distant future. She is also open to any questions, comments, feedback, or concerns that students may have about the changes.
Finning said, “I have student walk-in hours every week on Monday 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday 11 a.m. to noon. If someone has a personal concern or they are upset, just come see me or shoot me an email. I want to hear from our students. My goal is to be accessible.”