Although off-campus housing is not a new phenomenon at Bowdoin, the number of students renting homes off-campus has been steadily increasing over the past few years—a phenomenon that presents new challenges for the College. Since the Office of Safety and Security has no control over privately-owned property, students in these homes must deal directly with the Brunswick Police Department (BPD) and with other community members, a process that can lead to some tension.
According to Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood, there are currently 165 students living off-campus this fall semester. This is the highest the number has been in the past six years and an increase from the 144 who lived off-campus in Fall 2014.
Some members of the Brunswick community feel the College does not do enough to regulate Bowdoin students living off campus. Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch, who lives on Cleaveland Street, criticized the lack of policies surrounding the issue.
“They need to seek to restrict more, guide more the students who live in the houses. And that’s not to say that individual people of good will like Randy haven’t done what they can do, but once students move off campus the College has essentially no jurisdiction, and so they really don’t get involved,” she said.
Since Bowdoin Security does not get involved at off-campus houses, Welsch and other community members cannot call upon them to regulate the students living there. Instead, they must rely on communications with residents—or on BPD—when there is an issue.
“I really, really hate that that’s all we can do. I don’t think of having an adversarial relationship with students. I don’t think of calling the police on neighbors. None of that seems any kind of normal to me,” said Welsch.
If residents don’t wish to invoke the police, Welsch said, the responsibility is on them to “provide guidance to the students about what it means to live in a quiet neighborhood as quiet neighbors.”
“There’s all kinds of things you need to teach the people who live there every year,” she said.
Students ask neighbors to call them instead of the police when there is a problem, said Welsch, “but, you know, that’s also not really our job.”
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies Jill Pearlman lives on Longfellow Avenue and is thankful that she does not have to deal with students, as she is not immediate neighbors with any of them.
Pearlman says that having her children grow up near the College was a rewarding experience and that there have been winters where students would help shovel her driveway, but she would not like to have them live next door.
“Students can be incredibly nice, but I just don’t want to live next to them,” she said.
She added that it is unfortunate that Bowdoin is buying a lot of property on Longfellow Avenue, a street close to campus. Currently there is one off-campus student home on Longfellow Avenue.
According to Perlman, professors are “very unhappy” that they are not able to live on Longfellow because houses have been bought by the College.
Traditionally, certain houses cycle through groups of Bowdoin student renters every year. Some are unofficially affiliated with sports teams, while others are just passed between friends. Students choose to live off-campus for a variety of reasons—to get some distance from the Bowdoin scene, to have a space to throw parties and spend time with friends, to have more autonomy. However, with this autonomy also come certain challenges.
Jared Feldman ’16 lives in a house with 10 other Bowdoin students on Cleaveland Street. He described his and his housemates’ interactions with the Brunswick community as “fairly limited,” but added that “we definitely try to maintain as positive as possible neighbor relations.”
“We absolutely send emails to the neighbors if there’s going to be any large gathering, any noise. They have our numbers. The idea is to contact us if there’s a problem before the police,” he said.
Peter Yanson ’16 lives with five other students on Bowker Street, in a house that was rented to students for the first time this year. He expressed similar sentiments about community relationships.
“Most of our interactions with our neighbors have been at the beginning of the year. When we first moved in, we went around and introduced ourselves and gave them our phone numbers in case we threw any parties that got too rowdy or anything,” he said. “They were all a little apprehensive at first because there had been a family that lived there before and this was the first time that six college boys were going to live in a house together, so they were a little nervous about that, but on the whole it’s been super positive.”
Yanson said that he lived off campus on McClellan Street last spring semester and found that interactions with neighbors were more tense there, with neighbors that often called BPD with complaints of excessive noise. However, Yanson did not see these run-ins as too different from dealing with Bowdoin Security.
“What would Security do—they would come, they would tell us to calm down. And then the police just did the same thing last year. They would tell us to turn down the music, whoever was outside was 21 and showed their ID, it never amounted to anything else. So I never thought of it as a larger deal to deal with the police, just a different deal,” he said.
Feldman expressed more reservations about interactions with the police.
“It hasn’t been a large challenge for us yet, but I think it’s something that we’re all aware of,” he said. “Throwing [parties] off campus is certainly a larger responsibility and I think everyone in the house has felt that when there are people over. We don’t have Security as a buffer.”
Matt Rubinoff ’16 lives on Garrison Street with six other Bowdoin students in a house that has historically been traded between members of the hockey and football teams. Since the house has traditionally been a residence that hosts many parties, Rubinoff said he and his housemates met with both Randy Nichols and BPD before the year started.
“When something’s going on with students, [BPD] will contact Bowdoin Security, and they keep a good connection between those two. But first response in an emergency would be from the police,” he said.
Juliet Eyraud ’16 lives at 11 Potter Street with four roommates. It is Eyraud’s second year living off-campus. She lived on McClellan Street last year, and loves the experience.
“I liked the idea of having cheaper housing and having neighbors, having a kitchen and being more connected to the community than I have been,” she said.
11 Potter is next to the home of Senator Angus King.
“He actually hit my roommate’s car and left a really nice note that was like, ‘I think I might have damaged your bumper please get in touch with my insurance agency. Signed Angus King,’” said Eyraud.
Eyraud has not had any interactions with the police, but since one of the assaults that occurred earlier this semester was on Potter Street, Eyraud says Security has been very responsive and has communicated well since the incident.
“Randy came to our house and gave us updates without us even asking,” said Eyraud.
Eyraud lived in the house for a week in the summer before her roommates and says there was a prowler in her yard, but when she contacted Security they told her it wasn’t in their domain. This changed as the semester went on.
“I think because it kept happening they were like, ‘We should make this our domain,’ which is nice,” she said. “I haven’t felt incredibly unsafe.”
Amina Ben Ismail ’17 lives at 84 Spring Street and the recent security concerns have not changed her outlook on off-campus housing either.
“I’m scared now but it hasn’t changed my experience. I already knew that these things happened. It was scary that it was this close but I do feel safe driving—I never walked—and taking the shuttle,” she said.
One critique Ben Ismail has of living off-campus is her house’s relationship with Security. Security has not visited Spring Street since she moved in, and Ben Ismail wishes that they would be more involved with the off-campus houses.
“I wish Bowdoin Security would visit off-campus houses and see how much lighting there is and if it’s safe. They have students living off campus, they should make sure that everything is good,” she said.
If they are not called by students, residents or BPD, Security often does not visit or communicate with students living in off-campus houses.
“If the police ask us to respond and assist them, we will often do that,” said Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols.
This semester, Nichols has had to speak to students living in off-campus houses on Garrison Street and Harpswell Road because neighbors were upset that students were cutting through their lawns.
Nichols advises students to get to know their neighbors and communicate with them if there are any problems.
“When I meet with off-campus students I encourage them to get to know their neighbors and even exchange phone numbers, so if things get a little loud some night or there is some sort of a disturbance the neighbor can call. And that keeps things on an even keel and lays the groundwork for a relationship with the neighborhood,” he said.