Local Perceptions: Towson’s niche in residential, business communities
For years, there have been anonymous grumblings about the behavior of Towson students or the rigor of the athletics department and academics. The Towerlight perceptions series aims to get a pulse of these issues and more from those experiencing them first-hand. Opening this series are views of how the University has interacted with local residences and the business community.
For the past decade, Towson University’s influence has crept from the bounds of campus to the greater area as student enrollment has sharply increased.
Beginning in 2004, on-campus housing demands could not be met, causing spillover to the surrounding residential communities. With more students occupying neighborhoods, complaints of noise and trash arose from long-time tenants, creating friction between the University and these local sects.
Today, the University has altered their approach to hearing complaints, liaising with prominent community members frequently, though negative stigmas still linger.
Particularly during annual events like Tigerfest and the Homecoming concert, complaints spike.
Vice President for Student Affairs Deb Moriarty wrote a letter to The Towerlight in May of 2010 saying she was “greatly disappointed with the poor student behavior” during that year’s Tigerfest.
“Being a student living in the community does not provide the excuse to engage in disorderly, disruptive and uncivil behavior—not even once a year,” she said in the letter. “With more than 100 citations issued throughout the day, it is clear that the behaviors of some students are potentially ruining the event for all other students.”
Relations have improved over time.
The University Relations Committee meets monthly with the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, and student affairs officials and TUPD maintain a heavy hand in ensuring a positive relationship between the University and the proximate neighborhoods.
A student and community hotline allows anyone to phone complaints to the student affairs office, who, with a TUPD officer will visit the corresponding address.
Paul Hartman, president of the GTCCA, said this measure has largely eliminated unmanageable parties in neighborhoods.
“That’s the solution for party houses,” he said. “They’re sitting targets, they’re easy to find. The University can talk to them and tell them chill out.”
Residents don’t often want to punish students, Moriarty said, but she doubts the hotline truly address the problems. She encourages community residents to call the police to handle rowdy parties.
“Some might say, ‘Deb, you have personally ruined those events,” Moriarty said. “But our goal is to create great campus traditions that are fun, safe, celebratory and don’t involve a great amount of risk.”
Some students said officials’ actions have “drained the fun” out of a University tradition.
“The University is fairly successful at stamping out any potential fun to be had on campus and there’s hardly anything within walking distance worth your time to go to,” graduate student Leanna Lawlor said.
Other complaints are the same as a decade ago, Hartman said, and largely stem from the lifestyle difference between students and family homes. Hartman has been a resident in the greater Towson area since 1988.
“Students walk through traffic at 2 a.m. coming back from the bar, and it’s noisy when it’s a group of five-10 people,” he said. “It’s folks just walking through the neighborhood at really early hours, and when it gets warm and people open windows it can be distributing.”
Freshman Brianna Carroll said when she was applying to Towson, she heard from her friends that Towson was a “party school.”
“People thought I was coming here for the party aspect,” she said. “I think different people have different things that they’re into.”
Hartman said he has been pleased with the time and communication University officials have invested in maintaining a relationship. Though Moriarty no longer sits on the committee, Jana Varwig, associate vice president for student development still attends the monthly meetings.
Among the initiatives Moriarty and former university president Robert Caret enacted in 2005 was developing the coordinator for off-campus student services position.
That position has recently been filled by Joyce Herold, who said that during her short tenure she has heard only positive remarks regarding Towson students’ behavior.
Herold’s responsibilities involve educating students about living in off-campus spaces, and day-to-day tasks, like when trash pick-up day occurs.
She also supervises a student ambassadors program which features students living in neighborhoods that have historically been the sites of rocky relations, like Donnybrook apartment complex and two row home communities.
“When I spoke to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun, he said he was very impressed with TU students,“ she said. “I think the image of TU has improved over the past several years, especially through implementing the TU hotline.”
The residents who still complain are ones who have been burned by poor student behavior, University President Maravene Loeschke said, and have trouble letting the past go.
Loeschke also meets with the GTCCA regularly.
“We’re hoping in a super optimistic way that Towson’s values, the leadership values, the civic engagement, the core values will permeate through our students’ lives,“ she said. “Hopefully we will start to see some change in the way people behave. There will always be people misbehaving, of course.”
Relationships among the University, its students and local businesses have been more amicable.
Business owners have long relied on students as a primary form of income, Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said. These businesses will often cater to students by providing discounts or specials with student identification.
For the past two years, the Student Government Association has formed partnerships with local businesses and released discount cards that provide students with unlimited deals at dozens of these businesses.
Still, employees endure many of the same problems as residences. Restaurants that stay open late, especially during weekends often see intoxicated students coming in to order a late-night pizza.
“That’s a part of college life. Late night is always going to be a headache,” Johnny Pizan, manager of Pizan’s said in a Sept. 2012 Towerlight article “It’s a part of the job. Any business that’s near a university will have problems with late night. It’s inevitable.”
With the University’s growth, the surrounding area has seen rapid development. Loeschke said that when she attended the University, one restaurant, an Italian joint, was the only affordable establishment for students.
“Besides the bars,” Loeschke said.
Baltimore county planners have long held a “Towson community plan” on the government website which features improvements for the Towson Circle, and popular business-lined streets like Chesapeake and Joppa.
Loeschke’s ideal is to create a seamless flow between the University and the upcoming business community.
“I’d like for students to be able to walk all the way from … West Village to the mall,” she said. “Without ever crossing a street, on a well-lit path, lined with sculpture.”
Towson’s status as a stereotypical college town is debated among students.
Freshman Catie Glass said she appreciates the diversity of entertainment and businesses around the area.
“There’s a good mix of stuff to do, shopping and eating,” she said. “You can go down to the harbor. We’re in a good location.”
Lawlor said the surrounding community is unwelcoming.
“It’s as if we, as college students, are pushing against a brick wall to live the typical college lifestyle,” she said. “We’re completely surrounded by nursing homes, hospitals and families who make it clear they don’t want us around.”
When talking about expanding as a college town, Loeschke has faced resistance from county planners, who said they perceived that Towson was “overtaking” the surrounding area.
Administration has tried to establish University outposts downtown like the Institute for Well Being in the Towson City Center.
In the past, the University has faced opposition to expansion outside campus boundaries.
“I have no desire to run the movie theater,” she said.
When in 2010, then-administration made a bid on the Senator Theatre, community members said the venue would attract misbehaving and drunken students.
Other officials and community members said in a Feb. 2010 article in the Towerlight that Towson’s acquisition of the theatre would diversify that area. Glass said she would not like Towson to expand from the original campus, as facilities would be farther away.
“I don’t think that would be beneficial,” she said. “It’d be a long walk to classes.”
When implementing physical changes to the area, Hafford said the Chamber consults students.
They recently held a focus group in which students asked for more parking lots and better lighting. Hafford said businesses take this feedback seriously.
“Towson University is one of our biggest economic engines, students, faculty and staff and everything connected to it,” she said.
Though Towson constituents are the driving force behind business marketing strategies and revenue, one area administration has not directly invested funds are underprivileged factions.
Neighboring colleges in Baltimore, even those with tight budgets, have donated millions to revitalize nearby downtrodden neighbors.
Both Coppin State University and Loyola University have recruited students and secured contributions to fix homes close to campus.
Loeschke said she does not anticipate Towson starting any projects, though she did cite the Big Event, in which Towson students clean streets of trash and debris after Tigerfest.
“If any money comes in I want to ensure it’s going to students,” she said. “That’s a long discussion.”