Alcohol consumption and “beer pong” were what was happening Thursday at a house occupied by Union College students.
The college football team, which was viewed as a functional family by the city’s top attorney early this week, celebrated the beginning of spring by setting up a table for a drinking game called beer pong in the front yard of the house in the Union Triangle neighborhood.
Lounging on the sidewalk, 10 young men drank beer, some becoming drunk enough to be verbally aggressive to passers-by.
While their music could barely be heard two houses away, neighbors said the display of public drunkenness was disgraceful enough to prove that the city must stop large groups of college students from living together.
“What I observed today is just a small sample of what we see here,” said James Livingston, who lives nearby on Park Avenue. “It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest, like the corporation counsel did, that this is normal family behavior. These large groups of individuals are partying and engaging in all kinds of inappropriate behaviors.”
The city has a “grouper” law on the books that prohibits more than four non-familial adults from living together. But Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said this week that the law is so vague, even the college football team qualifies as a family. Ten members of the team live together at 20 Union Ave. with a rolling lease that has been extended for years.
They happily gathered in the afternoon sunlight Thursday and said anyone who saw them was probably jealous that they had to work.
“They probably all used to do this. They wish they were out here,” said Andrew Reigle, 22, a senior and captain of the football team.
Team quarterback and senior Vito Pellerito, 22, added that he hasn’t heard any complaints from the neighbors.
“They don’t seem to mind.”
Some neighbors do object, but say they are too intimidated to speak publicly. And beyond that, college spokesman Phil Wajda said the students must follow the code of conduct, which specifically forbids beer pong and other games designed to encourage intoxication.
“Even though they live off campus, they’re subject to our code of conduct,” he said, adding, “They should be thinking about their actions with regard to their neighbors.”
He stressed that the students will be held accountable, even though the party was “pretty tame.”
The code of conduct says that students put their lives at risk when they lose the ability to reason and control their actions because of drunkenness. It prohibits “any occasion when the atmosphere or circumstances are such that the intended or likely outcome is either abuse of alcohol or to become intoxicated.”
Students who organize drinking games, beer pong and other activities are irresponsibly distributing alcohol, according to the code, and can be punished.
But most of the students at 20 Union Ave. have just a few months left before graduation. They’ve finished their lengthy senior theses and have just one semester of classes left before the big day. They’re already starting to celebrate, neighbors said.
And that’s when big crowds gather at the mansion-sized houses near the college, where up to a dozen college students can share what is zoned as a single-family house. Those buildings are big enough for parties with upward of a hundred students, and neighbors say they’ve seen crowds of that size at night this time of year.
“We’re having the functional equivalent of a fraternal and sorority row developing along Union Avenue, not a family,” Livingston said. “These problems are real. They’ve been happening. They’ve been very well documented.”
Wajda said that’s going too far. Informal fraternities, which are sometimes criticized for dangerous hazing and for encouraging underage members to drink heavily, are not forming along the outskirts of the college, the college spokesman said.
“We don’t see that. They’re students. Just students,” he said. “I do want to stress they are held accountable … and most of our students are well-behaved and respectful.”
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