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As Dickinson College prepares to wrap up its 2018-19 academic year with graduation on Sunday, college officials have a piece of good news for the Carlisle community: there were fewer off-campus public safety incidents this year, a trend perhaps caused by the college’s recently renewed residency requirement.

Tensions between residents and students bubbled to the surface again in late April when students allegedly held a loud, unsupervised Tuesday-night party involving alcohol at a house in the 200 block of North College Street.

According to information from the college, however, that incident bucks the overall trend. Although the college’s Department of Public Safety only responds to off-campus calls if specifically requested to do so by Carlisle Borough Police, it tracks off-campus incidents and “has observed a decline in reported incidents related to off-campus spaces this academic year,” Craig Layne, assistant director of media relations, wrote in an email.

More students living on-campus

Like most college towns, Carlisle has at times experienced friction between students and permanent residents. In September 2015, those tensions boiled over after students living in off-campus housing near Pitt Street smashed two large planters that had been paid for by the neighborhood.   

Neighbors said it was part of an escalating trend of vandalism and property damage, and one neighbor asked the college to require students to live on campus.

In theory, that request was granted last fall when the opening of a new dorm gave Dickinson College the housing capacity it needs to enforce its residency requirement. The college now requires all students to live in campus-owned housing unless they live with a parent in a permanent residence that is 25 miles or less from the college, Layne said.

There are caveats, however.

First, the college still doesn’t have enough room in its main residence halls for all students, so about 700 students still live in houses or apartment buildings owned by the college. That number will decrease by about 15 percent for the 2019-20 academic year, Layne said. Students who live in off-campus housing are required to abide by campus rules, and Dickinson College’s Department of Public Safety has “full police authority” on all property owned by the college, he said.  

Second, parents have purchased homes in the borough to serve as “sports houses” where students on athletic teams can hang out, including the “football house” on College Street where the late-April party was held.

Not a “party house”

Robyn Porter, a real estate agent from Bethesda, Maryland, whose son is a member of the Dickinson College football team, said she bought the house because student athletes feel that there is a lack of places on campus for them to hang out.

In addition to Porter’s house for football players, there is also a “baseball house” and a “lacrosse house” off-campus, she said.

Porter said there was one large party at the football house in recent weeks, but she said it is not a “party house.” More common activities are video games, a barbecue and watching "Game of Thrones," she said. The students plan to be good neighbors by shoveling walks in the winter time and helping to plant gardens in the area.

“These kids are good boys who need a place to gather,” she said.

Students are not allowed to sleep there, and Porter has installed exterior cameras that she can monitor. Weapons, drugs and underage drinking are also prohibited, she said.

Layne said the Dickinson College Department of Public Safety has not responded to any incidents in the 200 block of North College Street in recent months.

Is there a problem?

Despite occasional issues, neighborhood leaders downplayed the extent of problems between students and the community.

Pat Craig, president of the Pomfret Street Group, said the students who lived in her neighborhood successfully integrated into the downtown, and the community never had problems with the students. Brenda Landis, a borough council member and a leader of the Carlisle West Side Neighbors group, said there were a few issues several years ago, but it “really hasn’t come up much” in more recent meetings.

Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis said borough police have a good working relationship with Dickinson College’s Department of Public Safety and deferred to the Department of Public Safety on whether off-campus incidents have declined this year.

For the college’s part, students are required to conduct themselves appropriately whether they are on campus or not, according to Layne.

“We expect all of our students to demonstrate respect for ideas, themselves, others, community and property,” he wrote.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.