ATO residents placed on probation after neighbor complains

67

Eight members of the Occidental football team have been put on extended probation until May for complaints stemming from parties at their house, commonly known as ATO.

According to ATO resident Nick McHugh (senior), neighbor Mo Oxford filed a noise complaint with Campus Safety over the house’s most recent theme party, “Safari.” Officers documented the residents for breaking several of the college’s code of conduct policies, which mandate compliance with federal, state and local law and prohibit retaliation against those who report a policy violation.

This is not the first time that Oxford called Campus Safety to complain about parties at ATO, according to McHugh.

“Oxford is a difficult neighbor,” McHugh said. “She has no problem calling the campus at 10:30 p.m. when there are really not too many people here.”

Oxford’s tense relations with residents of ATO date back to 2002, when she moved into a house across the street.

“I know that they’re students; they work hard and they want to play hard. But there are limits to that,” Oxford said. “It’s not about like or dislike, it’s about respect more than anything to me. It’s about thinking about the people around you and not just yourself.”

Oxford is a member of the Alumni Avenue Neighborhood Watch and worked in Occidental’s Office of Risk Management from 1999 to 2005. Since leaving Occidental, she has met with the administration and Campus Safety on numerous occasions to address noise complaints concerning ATO. Last spring, she contributed to the revision of the off-campus living policy that holds students accountable to conduct codes in the Community Relations Agreement drafted by Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS). According to Director of REHS Chad Myers, off-campus students have always been held accountable for conduct codes, but the new agreement clarified that fact.

“The goal was to help students living off-campus understand how to be positive and respectful members of the community,” Myers said via email.

Oxford said she has experienced a significant decrease in conduct issues on Alumni Avenue, which she attributes to Campus Safety’s increased response to off-campus noise complaints.

“Campus Safety is doing a really great job, in my opinion, of working toward trying to cut down on [disturbance from ATO],” Oxford said.

But not all Alumni Avenue neighbors share Oxford’s opinion that ATO is a nuisance to the neighborhood.

Jim Blackett (senior) and his roommate live across the street from ATO. Though Blackett considers himself a light sleeper, he said he has never been disturbed by noise coming from ATO.

“I can’t speak on behalf of other community members, but for me and my roommate, ATO hasn’t affected life off campus at all,” Blackett said. He also stated that his landlord, who lives next door, is not troubled by ATO either.

McHugh believes that ATO’s reputation prompted both neighbors and Campus Safety to watch the house more closely. Campus Safety Chief Victor Clay denied that any off-campus houses were patrolled more regularly than others.

In order to improve the house’s reputation, its residents have renovated the interior and made an effort to befriend their neighbors; they gave out candy on Halloween and have invited neighbors to play with their dog, Molly.

“We’re shifting the culture of this house to be more community oriented,” McHugh said.

Oxford agreed that relations with ATO have improved in recent years. She said that, in the early 2000s, previous residents would retaliate against her for calling Campus Safety by egging her car, smearing feces on her house, slashing her tires, dumping rotten fish on her porch and launching bottle rockets to her lawn.

In contrast, the current residents of ATO have taken measures to control the source of Oxford’s complaintstheir parties. Unlike previous parties, ATO limited Safari to a guest list, which they enforced with paid security guards. This did not deter Campus Safety from breaking up the party after Oxford’s noise complaint. According to Clay, the employment of such crowd-control measures has no affect on how Campus Safety handles parties.

“We feel as though all of the efforts we have taken so far to this point haven’t been acknowledged,“ McHugh said. “There were crowd control measures in place yet we still got written up.”

ATO residents offered recommendations to curb the impact of their parties on the neighborhood during their Nov. 4 conduct meeting with Dean of Students Barbara Avery, Athletics Director Jamie Hoffman, head football coach Doug Semones, Clay and several representatives from REHS. The residents proposed establishing a “party protocol,” which would outline the dates of planned parties, residents in charge of crowd control and proactive measures to contain future parties. According to McHugh, his suggestion that Campus Safety assist them in dispersing crowds during parties was met by an “overtly disrespectful” denial by Clay.

Clay declined to comment on the ATO case specifically.

Avery and representatives of REHS reacted positively to ATO’s recommendation of an off-campus conduct task force that would hold periodic meetings with off-campus students and the administration.

“What I think would be beneficial is to get a select few students that live off-campus, a couple of neighbors and then some administrators to discuss ways to make the off-campus living experience more enjoyable for all involved,” Myers said.

But despite promising cooperation between ATO residents and administrators, McHugh questions whether the proactive measures outlined by a task force will solve the problem.

“We understand that we could be doing a little bit more to manage parties,” McHugh said. “I just don’t know if those actions are going to be taken into account.”

Despite this risk, ATO residents say they are committed to hosting more parties. McHugh is unsure what the consequences will be, but Myers said suspension and withholding of diplomas is a possibility. Oxford would not be entirely opposed to this action.

“Suspension, expulsion or losing their diploma is really extreme,” Oxford said. “On the other hand, if it’s done once, that’s a message that’s going to be loud and clear, probably for years to come.”