Wilfrid Laurier University working with students to foster better relations with neighbours, dean says

Leanne Holland Brown, the dean of students at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the school is doing what it can to address concerns from the community about student behaviour off campus, but it can be a challenge.

School says they try to educate students about how to be good community citizens

Waterloo, Ont.'s Ezra Street was shut down by several thousand Wilfrid Laurier students celebrating St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2016. Residents in the MacGregor Albert neighbourhood say they regularly experience problems with partying students, not just on special days like St. Patrick's Day. Wilfrid Laurier University says it condemns recently reported acts of vandalism and abusive behaviour that may have involved students from the school. (Gary Graves/CBC)

If university students behave badly off campus, it can be difficult for school officials to do much, Wilfrid Laurier University's dean of students says.

"It is challenging to be involved and to leverage the kind of consequences that sometimes people are asking for," Leanne Holland Brown told Craig Norris, host of The Morning Edition, Wednesday.

There is a non-academic code of conduct students are expected to follow, she said. If neighbours complain to the school about problematic behaviour, Holland Brown has brought students into her office to meet with them. She called it an "educational intervention" where students are informed about city bylaws, the code of conduct and how their behaviour has upset their neighbours.

"Some of those conversations, honestly, have yielded great results," she said. One example is a student this year who offered to shovel the driveway of an elderly neighbour after being informed a loud party at the student's house had disturbed the neighbour.

Residents raise concerns

Holland Brown also responded to criticism from neighbours in the MacGregor Albert area of Waterloo that students from the university have caused property damage and threatened a resident.

Several residents in the designated heritage district called CBC News to share stories of bottles thrown at their homes, broken fences and times when they've asked people they believe to be students to stop urinating on their lawns and homes.

One resident, Scott Leatherdale, said someone uttered a death threat at him as he was putting out his garbage and someone threw a concrete cinder block through his living room window around 2 a.m. March 23, landing near an infant swing he and his wife use for their son.

A photo taken early Wednesday morning shows a cinder block which was thrown inside Scott Leatherdale's Albert Street home. He says it bounced off his son's swinging chair (pictured) before landing on the floor. (Contributed by Scott Leatherdale)

Police are investigating the threat and the cinder block vandalism.

Leatherdale said he cannot be 100 per cent sure, but he believes the threat and cinder block may be retaliation by students who live next door, who believe he called police on St. Patrick's Day to break up a keg party.

"We do feel a lot of responsibility to be educating our students about what it means to be part of our community, but I don't think it would be fair to refine 100 per cent of the issues to Laurier students," Holland Brown said.

"That doesn't diminish our responsibility as a university to be educating our students."

Holland Brown said during Frosh Week she spoke to thousands of new students about what it means to be a good neighbour. Emails are sent out during the first week of classes to students to remind them to be upstanding citizens in the community.

Open dialogue helps

A Laurier fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, said their members are not involved in the problems in the neighbourhood and they try to help out when they can.

Another former student, Celia Shantz, called the CBC K-W Talkback number and said when she was a student, she lived in a home with other young women on Dorset Street.

"We did have parties at our house, but we often would let our neighbours know," she said, adding they had a young family on one side and an older couple on the other side.

"We would warn them before we had parties. We would always make sure that everything stayed in our house and that no one was disrespecting them," she said.

"When you talk to your neighbours and work with your neighbours, they often are more responsive and you can get along. We had great relationships with our neighbours, there were no problems, and I'd just like to point out that were responsible students who did drink and party, but did it in a responsible way."

Ian Fletcher is a former cab driver in Waterloo and he said he regularly drove students to their destinations, which often included bars.

He said the universities shouldn't be held accountable for the actions of students.

"The one at fault is not the university, it is the students, and the people preying on those students [are] the plethora of bars to service them. They're taking money out of the students' pockets, they're giving them ample means and opportunity to inebriate themselves every single night," Fletcher said, also in a Talkback call.

"I think that we have a larger cultural discussion on how to get young adults to grow the heck up and stop being a bunch of drunken hooligans. And I feel sorry for everybody who has to live in, what every resident in this city knows, is the student ghetto."

Building relationships helps

Holland Brown said there have been some proactive approaches to curbing bad behaviour. One is that every fall, the MacGregor Albert Community Association (MACA) holds a community barbecue and students are invited to meet their neighbours.

"Students get a chance to actually get to know their neighbours as people," she said. "Opportunities like that create relationships which hopefully mitigate the kind of instances that we see and that we are hearing about now."

On Wednesday night, a Town and Gown meeting was held. At it, representatives from the City of Waterloo, both universities, police, fire and community leaders met to discuss how the students and city residents can live harmoniously.

Holland Brown said there was a "robust" conversation about the issues being raised by residents in the MacGregor Albert neighbourhood and a decision was made to have a sub-group look at the issues.

"It's a complex issue, everybody knows that, and it's going to require some complex solutions and they're going to have to be multi-pronged," she said.

with files from Jackie Sharkey


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