Mason Expands Program to Help Students ‘Party Smart’ Off Campus
By Buzz McClain
While the vast majority of students living off campus are responsible and respectful of their neighbors, Mason is taking an expanded proactive approach this fall to disruptive off-campus partying by students living in local neighborhoods.
Last year was the first year Mason and community representatives conducted 30 “Welcome Walks,” knocking on doors where student live off campus and offering information about how to host responsible and respectful parties and be “good ambassadors for the university,” according to Traci Claar, director of Mason’s Office of Community Relations.
The number of homes visited this year will approach 200 and for the first time will include people who are not Mason students. The walks will take place August 29, 30, and 31.
“This year, we’re expanding the scope of the program to include not just households where we’ve had complaints but to include whole neighborhoods,” says Claar. “And we’ll be visiting neighbors as well. We want to hear any concerns they may have regarding students living nearby and let them know our office is a resource for them.”
Representatives from the university and local jurisdictions will participate in Welcome Walks in neighborhoods near Mason’s Fairfax Campus in the City of Fairfax and Fairfax County. The representatives will inform residents of their options should their student neighbors run afoul of community standards.
Off-campus students whose homes are visited will receive “Welcome Packs,” which are Mason-branded bags containing “welcome to the neighborhood” letters from the appropriate local government entities, as well as literature on trash collection, local ordinances, and off-campus services and programs.
The bags will also contain “Party Packs” to help students host an acceptable party, including, among other items, party announcements (in triplicate) with spaces for a contact name and phone number to present to neighbors; a bottle of water for the sober party monitor; garbage bags; a chip clip; coasters with good neighbor advice; and a red cup-shaped magnet spelling out Party Smart tips, such as “Respect your neighbor’s right to sleep.”
The Welcome Walks will consist of teams of four that may include elected officials, firefighters, homeowners association leaders, student off-campus advisors, and staff from the Office of Community Relations.
This year, Mason has increased the number of off-campus student advisors who help connect off-campus students with on-campus activities and opportunities.
“We help with roommate problems, we act as a housing resource, we encourage on-campus involvement—we’re like Resident Advisors for off-campus students,” says Millod Shahsiah, a senior majoring in global affairs and one of the off-campus student advisors.
A new off-campus student council will “help off-campus students get involved, get their voices heard, and serve as an advocate for students,” says Shahsiah.
The offcampus.gmu.edu website also connects off-campus residents with campus resources.
Mason’s proactive good-neighbor approach crosses all ages for students, but freshmen seem to need party tutorials most.
“Other universities require incoming freshmen to live on campus for at least the first year of their studies,” says Scott Blevins, associate director of Off-Campus Student Programs and Services. “We do not, which I think is great because a lot of our students are local, and for family reasons they want to be close to home or stay at home.
“But at any time, between 25 and 30 percent of freshman students live off campus,” Blevins points out. “That’s about 650 students.”
There’s no telling how many upper-class and transfer students live off campus, but Blevins says approximately 80 percent of all students live off campus at some point in their careers at Mason. However, the university’s resident student population is constantly growing, now numbering more than 6,000 students.
Last year’s Welcome Walks were generally well received.
“The students were pretty receptive to the statement, ‘Trust me, you’d rather hear it from me with this information about partying responsibly than the alternative,’” Blevins says.
The “alternative” for violating noise ordinances in both Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax is a fine of $1,000, with possible jail time. Off-campus students are also subject to the Mason Student Code of Conduct and could face further sanctions for violations.
Sarah Gallagher, assistant director for community relations, says there was a noticeable difference in police calls and neighborhood complaints after last year’s Welcome Walks. There were few “revisits,” and anecdotal evidence indicates the off-campus students responded to the message, “party safe, party smart.”
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.