Sunday, June 17, 2018
Education

Off-campus University of Tampa parties rile second neighborhood

TAMPA — First it was West Riverfront.

Now a second neighborhood is complaining that weekend crowds of University of Tampa students are damaging their property and their sleep.

"An invasion of our community," North Hyde Park Civic Association president Robert Allen told the City Council last week.

Late on weekend nights, UT students arrive and leave in taxicabs that clog the streets. In between, residents say, they knock down mailboxes and fences, make noise, urinate openly, strew trash and behave lewdly.

"There are over 200 or 300, sometimes 400, people inside, on the property, in the alleys, on the streets in our area," said Wesley Weissenburger, a 20-year resident of North Hyde Park. "They go from one house and they stagger up the alleys, in the street, to the next party house."

North Hyde Park is generally west and north of UT's campus, north of W Kennedy Boulevard.

The civic association has told City Council staff that the problem houses include one on the 1700 block of N B Street.

Early Friday evening, two young men at the house said they were busy watching a movie (Charlie Countryman, with Shia LaBeouf) and did not want to respond to the civic association's complaints.

They said they wave to their neighbors, and if a neighbor raises a concern, they take care of it.

"We're friends with everyone on this street, and there's no problems," said a young man with dark curly hair who would not give his name. Asked if he was a UT student, he said, "Could be."

Across the street, Calvin Hordge, 59, said he does mind the noise, the people parking in front of his driveway, the empty beer cans, the young woman he stopped from urinating in a neighbor's yard and lines of taxicabs standing in the street.

"They throw parties over there like Las Vegas," Hordge said. "You're looking at hundreds of people in the back yard. Hundreds."

But Eric Smith, a 57-year-old mail carrier who lives next to the young men's house, said he doesn't have a problem with them.

"They're college kids. They're good kids," he said. Asked if they throw big parties, he said, "not what I would consider a big party. I was a kid once. It doesn't bother me."

Police records show that officers went to the house on April 13 and Sept. 14 for disturbances. But police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said police haven't received complaints about loud parties from the neighborhood this school year.

Because of past problems, officers increase their patrols in neighborhoods around UT at the start of the school year in an attempt to head off problems, she said.

They have since returned to normal patrols, but planned to increase patrols this weekend because of the complaints.

"We're certainly concerned," McElroy said. "We'll be out there looking for the parties, and we'll deal with them if the parties are going on."

•••

North Hyde Park's complaints are similar to those lodged last year and earlier this fall by homeowners in neighboring West Riverfront.

But after publicity last month, the problem in West Riverfront has died down.

"It's back to normal for us," Dr. Lois Miles said Friday.

A University of Tampa administrator said the university expects students to be good citizens on or off campus, and UT works with police and neighbors to identify students who host disruptive parties.

If residents take down license plate numbers of cars parked at problem houses, the university will check to see whether the vehicles belong to students with campus parking permits.

And that's not all.

When campus police hear about a potentially troublesome off-campus party, they have gone to the scene in an attempt to identify students, said Gina Firth, UT's associate dean of wellness.

"Any student names that we have, we act upon them as soon as we get them," Firth said. UT students whose house parties have caused trouble for their neighbors have been disciplined by the university.

But even though a weekend party can attract a couple of hundred students, that's a small percentage of UT's total enrollment of nearly 7,000.

"It's a very, very small percentage that give a black eye to everybody else," Firth said.

•••

The problem in North Hyde Park is not unique to UT or Tampa.

As college towns and college administrators wrestle with similar problems, excessive behavior is celebrated via social media and YouTube videos.

A series of online videos posted under the label "I'm Shmacked" seeks out party scenes on or near campuses nationwide — and, yes, the University of Tampa is represented.

The UT "I'm Shmacked" video is about four minutes long and has been viewed more than 20,000 times.

True to the genre, it features lots of drinking, some drug use, twerking, shirtless guys, girls kissing and assorted drunken antics — plus images of UT's scenic campus and spots around Tampa.

"It is an embarrassment," UT senior Megan Ristic said. "Most of the students on campus are very embarrassed . . . by that video. It makes us look bad."

Ristic, a public health major who chairs the university's student conduct board, said there seems to have been an increase in house parties.

One reason, she said, is that campus security has gotten tougher when it comes to drinking on campus.

"I think students are scared of drinking on campus because they're scared of being caught," said Ristic, 21, of Chicago.

But she said students have been disciplined for hosting raucous off-campus parties.

Depending on how many times they've been in trouble, students can be required to do community service, write apologies to the neighbors, pay a fee, have their parents notified or get kicked out of their dorm.

Some are required to take an online assessment to evaluate their risk for drug and alcohol abuse. A counselor goes over their scores with them.

And at the high end of the scale, student offenders — including party hosts who generate complaints from their neighbors — can be suspended.

"I have seen some students who have gotten suspended from the university for a good amount of time," Ristic said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

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