Can students and their neighbours ever be friends?

The debris after a party in the garden of a student house near UCC; CCTV cameras have been introduced in some areas to monitor anti-social behaviour

THE new academic year brings with it a sense of dread for many of the residents living close to universities. Parties with loud music, drunkenness on the streets, interfering with parked cars, public urination and other forms of unacceptable behaviour are par for the course.

But this year a couple of initiatives have been introduced to try and control the unruly elements of the student population. Last week, during Freshers’ Week, a new CCTV scheme was introduced in Cork.

This joint initiative by UCC, the gardaí and Cork City Council, has seen the installation of three cameras near Brookfield, at the junction of Gaol Walk and Highfield Avenue, and at the junction of Donovan’s Road and College Road. The cameras are being monitored by gardaí at Anglesea Street station.

Chairperson of Highfield West and Magazine Road Residents’ Association, David O’Donovan, says: “It will be interesting to see what impact the CCTV cameras will have. The concern is that students will get wise to it and will move up to the Bandon Road area.” Also, Magazine Road, which is the scene of much of the antisocial behaviour, is not covered by the cameras.

O’Donovan, who lives in Highfield West, says that the issue of student misbehaviour “is kind of like a perfect storm. You’ve got 17 and 18-year-olds starting college. They have very few life skills in terms of living independently. They’re out of home for the first time. The next thing is drink and parties in houses belonging to landlords who are largely uncontactable.”

Freshers’ Week was unusually quiet in O’Donovan’s area. “But on Tuesday night last week, there was a party on Magazine Road which backs onto where we live. There were about 80 students in the house with all the doors and windows open and loud music playing. After ringing the student patrol and the landlord, things quietened down 10 minutes after we reported it.”

However, for one 70-year-old who asked not to be named, a resident of Magazine Road for the past 27 years, there is little peace. Over the years, his car has been damaged and he has experienced intimidating behaviour from students who, he says, are from both UCC and CIT.

“There was a party on the road the other night. I saw parents dropping off students at a house. Two hours later, the house was in party mode with about 50 people at it. I can oversee the back of this house. It was being used by the men as an open toilet. It just goes on and on. When the students are drunk, they’re out of their minds.”

The recently-appointed head of student experience at UCC, Dr Ian Pickup, says: “The key pressure points are Freshers’ Week, and Rag Week in the spring. Students drink more than normal during these times.

“As an institution, UCC absolutely empathises with the local residents and we’re doing as much as we can to work in partnership with them, as well as with the gardaí and the vintners. We’re trying to encourage the students to be good active citizens in their community. We have student community support workers who are out in the streets patrolling. I’m starting to meet residents’ associations. During Mid-term, there will be a forum where the residents’ views will be aired as well as the views of the landlords and gardaí. I’m also working with the local vintners. It’s not for us to tell a retailer how much they can sell vodka for, but it’s about the vintners being aware of their responsibility and having a willingness to engage and acknowledge problems.”

A 2010 UCC study found that 46% of male and 45% of female students reported binge drinking more than once a week. In an effort to discourage drinking, UCC has introduced alcohol-free apartments at Victoria Lodge. But only three students have so far signed up to the pilot scheme.

The student affairs manager at CIT, Dr Dan Collins, says the UCC initiative is a very good one but a difficult thing to do. “Our accommodation office works closely with colleagues in UCC and they’ll see how it works and whether landlords would buy into it.”

Dr Collins is appealing to students to look after themselves and to be aware they’re living in a community. “Also, there’s the knock-on effect of excessive drinking. If the gardaí get involved and students are arrested, it will have long-term repercussions if they want to apply for visas to go abroad. We’re probably slightly luckier here in Bishopstown in that it’s suburban. When students leave the institute at the end of the day, they tend to gravitate towards town.”

The students union at CIT has disassociated itself from the students’ Christmas dinner which had a reputation for being wild.

STUDENT EXPERIENCE

Student drunkenness depends on your social group, says Sara Dinan, who is in her fourth year at UCC doing a masters degree in management and marketing. “I used to go out two or three times a week. A night out costs €30 or €40. I find the social life expensive so now, I only go out once a week. What I usually do — and this is typical of most people I know — is go to a friend’s house for pre-drinks. That means when you actually go out to a pub, you spend less on drink. For the pre-drinks, I’d spend €10 and then I’d have two or three drinks in the pub. That’s not too bad. I’m not as extreme as some people who’d spend €80 on one night out.”

Dinan says there is a big drink culture at UCC. “You’ll find people in the college bars drinking all day during Freshers’ Week and Rag Week.”

Laura O’Donnell, a second year UCC arts student, lives with her family in Carrigaline. “The social life is quite expensive. I’m looking for a part-time job at the moment to keep me going.” Laura went to several student parties last year. “They weren’t too off the wall. I’ve been lucky in that nothing too dramatic happened at them. But I heard of parties where the gardaí had to be called. People were getting too rowdy. I suppose you’ll always have that in college.”

Mark Barry is a second-year UCC arts student living in Mayfield with his family. He enjoys spending the money he earns from a part-time job on his social life. “If you study hard, you appreciate going out more.”

However, for Aisling Lydon, a third year UCC music student, socialising doesn’t have to be expensive. From Galway, she is renting a house with four other students off College Road. “There’s lots of things you can do without spending too much money. You can have people over for a cup of tea. I love cooking so everyone chips in a few euro and I make a big meal. Some weeks I wouldn’t drink at all.”

Lydon welcomes the CCTV cameras. She resents the tendency to paint all students with the same brush. “We’re all made out to be bad. It’s not fair on us. If people want to drink, they can. If they don’t want to drink, it’s up to them. My preference is for getting food in. I don’t usually have big parties in my house. I don’t want people coming in and making it all messy.”


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