Alcohol is by no means ubiquitous at Western, and students who aren’t heavy drinkers are actually in the majority, according to to the Campus Community Coalition. The Campus Community Coalition is a collective of students and community members that work to help university students and long-term residents share the same city. Because drinking can be a problem with college students, one of the functions of the coalition is to provide students with evening alternatives to alcohol, and help students who party do so in a manner courteous to neighbors.
According to Susan Adams, the Campus Community Coalition Student Activities Coordinator, the coalition has about 65 active members.
“Those members are really the backbone to the coalition,” she said. “They include the Bellingham police department, who is very active in the coalition, the University Police Department, and the bar owners…. We also work with neighborhood association leaders, the city counsel, the city attorney’s office, property managers. We’ve certainly had issues around apartments and we want to help students deal with bad landlords, but also want to deal with situations where students can be loud of disruptive. So it goes both ways.”
Students, faculty, and staff also are members of the coalition, which was founded in 1999 by University President Karen Morris and Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson.
LateNight@WWU is one of several ongoing events put on by the Campus Community Coalition. LateNight@WWU this quarter includes Monday evenings at the Student RecCenter, Late Night at the VU, and Music and Movies at the Underground Coffeehouse.
“For us the motivation is to provide an alternative for students, to have something to do that is different than going off campus to go to a party,” said Adams. “We’re not suggesting students shouldn’t do that, but we’re trying to mitigate some of the loud and disruptive parties that occur in our neighborhoods.”
“Through our survey data that we have run over the years we’ve seen that about 75% of students are moderate to low drinkers,” said Adams. “So we want to provide something to those folks who aren’t interested in going to the bars.”
Although drinking and parties are not an exclusive focus of the coalition, it is a pressing issue many students and community members are eager to discuss. Last year, the coalition facilitated quarterly discussions entitled “WWU Student: Community Member or Just Passing Through?” and alcohol was frequently brought up.
“What came out of that is students went directly to talk about alcohol and parties, and neighbor and community member needs,” said Adams. “Being respectful. The concerns of parties came up. So we thought, this year we want to directly talk about the issues that came up in the forums. Which are: enforcement practices in Bellingham. Students are very opinionated. Some believe we have too strict of enforcement in Bellingham, and some feel it is needed and it is appropriate (the level at which our enforcement practices are currently at). The other things that came up were alcohol and neighborly relations.”
Because alcohol and parties were on the forefront of past discussions, the Campus Community Coalition decided to narrow the focus of dialogues this year. The coalition is facilitating quarterly discussions with the Legal Information Center and the Communication Department’s Let’s Talk series. The forums are entitled “Living Together in Bellingham: Student Parties, Enforcement Practices, and Neighborly Relations.”
The first “Living Together” forum was on Wednesday, October 18, at the American Museum of Radio and Electricity. The location was a deliberate choice.
“We want to expose students to the downtown area,” said Adams. “Of course, they’ve probably been there but we want to get them into the community and off the hill in a more structured environment. We also want to send the message to the community that Western students are willing to come off the hill and engage in a dialogue.”
The forum began with a 35 minute panel. The panelists were Western Senior Gus Zadra, Seahome Neighborhood Association President Allen Matsumoto, Lieutenant Steve Felmley of the Bellingham Police Department, Officer David Doughty of the University Police Department, and Assistant City Attorney Ryan Anderson. Professor Korry Harvey of the Communications Department asked predetermined questions that revealed what happens at parties when the police come, and the legal repercussions, from each panelist’s point of view.
After the questions, the audience and panelists broke off into small groups facilitated by students from the communications department. The small groups discussed ways students and long-term residents could better get along, especially with college parties, then came back to share in a big group. Many participants discussed what it would take for students to be courteous when hosting parties, and the tension between students and long-term residents. “We feel afraid of confronting each other and just leave out that personal touch,” said junior Lisa Stuart, a communications major. “We don’t want to get to know each other. I think that’s really sad that we’re not that personal with each other.”
Jodi Peterson, a senior and communications major, thought prejudice against students might lead to misunderstandings over parties.
“I think for me the thing I’d be most hesitant about is what they’d think of me before I say something because I’m a student,” she said. “I see it as one of those things that won’t get dealt with until it comes up and people will be like, ‘Okay, I don’t need to be scared to tell you guys to be quiet.’ I’d much prefer my neighbors came over and knocked on my door or called me and said, ‘Hey can you keep it down so I don’t have to call the cops.’ Nobody wants that to happen.”
Officer Mark Young of the Bellingham Police Department reminds students that many folks appreciate what students bring to Bellingham.
“One of the things I wanted to stress is that you guys [students] need to understand how it’s really valuable that you’re embraced by our community,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Western students, we wouldn’t have the neat diversity that we have in this community.”
Senior and Communications major Katherine Wentz is not as certain this is an issue that can be easily resolved through dialogue.
“I just feel that this is going to be a problem that is part of university life forever. No matter how hard we work towards understanding, there’s going to be the people who don’t care, and they’re going to ruin it for us all. I think it’s great that people are trying to get community awareness, but I just don’t think that it will ever completely solve the problem.”