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Northfield Option kids reprimanded

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“As you can imagine, these reports are disheartening and do not adhere to the standards of reasonable behavior established by the City of Northfield and Carleton College,” Associate Dean Cathy Carlson wrote in an email on October 23rd to all students living off-campus.

The reports in question were of inappropriate, disruptive student behavior in the Northfield community, and came to the college from community members, police, and the Northfield Eastside Neighborhood Association (NESNA).

Carlson cited one incident in particular which caused Northfield police to issue six citations for “disorderly conduct, noise, and underage drinking.” The incident occurred at at 516 College St., on Saturday, October 10th at 10 P.M. The party was a stop in mini-golf themed progressive.

Senior AJ Van Zoeren, 516 College resident and stop-host, confirmed that three citations were given that night to house residents for noise complaints, and three citations were given to other Carleton students–one for underage drinking, one for drunk and disorderly behavior, and one for indecent exposure.

“Carleton students were acting like [expletive-deleted] buffoons,” Van Zoeren explained. “Walking in people’s yards, peeing in people’s bushes, walking down the sidewalk while peeing, yelling, swearing, walking down the streets while cars are driving.”

According to President of NESNA Jerri Hurlbutt, Carleton class of 1976 and former Carleton German professor, such incidents–while not frequent–are also not unusual, particularly along College Street.

“The neighbors sleep, generally go to bed at 10, 11… It’s a relatively quiet neighborhood. And then occasionally you get something like what happened at this party, where somebody was literally peeing on the neighbor’s bushes. Just gross behavior,” she said. “The instructions that neighbors have received from the college are, call the police. It’s what you would do if it was a non-student renter or resident.”

The neighbors whose bushes were urinated upon are new to the community and, apparently quite shocked by the students’ behavior, did not wish to speak of the incident.

Per the suggestion of Carlson, Van Zoeren and his housemates visited their neighbors with cookies to apologize for the inappropriate behavior.

“It was obvious we’ve only been living here for five weeks, but these guys have been putting up with it for years,” he said. “The neighbors were as polite as they could be.”

Alice Thomas and her husband have lived in Northfield for 48 years. Her husband is retired from Carleton’s physics department, and she is retired from higher education as well.

“I just get tired of it, and I think other people do too,” she said. “We don’t keep the same hours as students. There are old people, and all of us have health problems, and some more serious than others. There are new babies whose parents are up half the night and then have to go to work in the morning.”

“There are incidents that I think no child should have to observe,” she added.

As an example, she spoke of an incident in the past two years in which a child could not sleep due to noise and awoke his or her mother. The mother and child looked out the window into the yard, and saw a group of students standing in a circle “yelling and hooting and with flashlights shining on a nude male making a snow angel,” Thomas said. “This was at 7 o’clock at night. That’s just not acceptable.”

As in this most recent incident, the problem is often not the residents of the houses themselves, but other Carleton students going to and from off-campus parties. Often, according to Hurlbutt, it’s “somebody having a party, the party getting out of control and… Students who do not live in the house [are] the people who are disruptive and have no clue that they’re not on campus.”

These incidents leave Northfield residents wondering what can be done on the part of the college to prevent future student misconduct.

“One question neighbors still have is accountability, other than legal processes,” Hurlbutt said. On the college’s end, she wondered, “Is there more of a stick, than a carrot, or is there a carrot and a stick?”

Dean Carlson is currently dealing with this particular incident on an individual basis with the students involved. Generally, the college’s first response to such problems is educational rather than punitive. If behavior continues, however, administrators reserve the right to revoke Northfield Option status and force students back onto campus.

On a broader scale, Carlson has engaged with both students and community members together about potential education programs. Ideas discussed were: a mandatory fall-orientation for Northfield Option students; and a mandatory spring meeting where those applying for Northfield Option may meet with neighbors and past students to learn the do’s and dont’s of living in the broader community, and what will be expected of them.

Though there are currently no plans to eliminate Northfield Option entirely, the college will continue to decrease the number of off-campus spots each year in accordance with its 2012 Strategic Plan. The end goal, Andrea Robinson reported to The Carletonian in Spring of 2014, is to get the number of spots down to fifty by eliminating approximately five each year.

Carlson said she did not know the specific number of spots the college was aiming for, but that “the goal is not to have no Northfield option, but to have very limited.”

“Carleton is a residential college, and in order for us to feel truly residential, we want to have almost all students living on campus,” she said.

As for Van Zoeren, his meeting with the Dean’s Office was not his first this term. He’d met with Carlson only a week earlier about a different, on-campus drinking incident concerning the men’s club soccer team, and during their second meeting, Carlson asked Van Zoeren if he was going to have anymore parties.

“I was like, ‘No, no, no,’” Van Zoeren said, shaking his head. “And I meant it this time.”

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