Mending fences: SGA and Amherst officials work together to improve town/gown relations

By Jason Kotoch

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

As the Amherst Farmers’ Market began packing up on a rainy Saturday afternoon, residents and clusters of students could be seen walking the bustling main streets of downtown, browsing inside shops and grabbing lunch at one of the many local restaurants.

Charles Avlino, an Amherst resident, was among the pedestrians downtown this past busy Saturday. According to Avlino, the vast majority of students he encounters downtown are pleasant, respectful and fun.

“I’m really impressed with the diversity when school is in. That’s just a healthy, enjoyable environment,” Avlino said.

University of Massachusetts Student Government Association President Vinayak Rao, however, believes tensions between students and full-time Amherst residents persist.

As part of a long term push to resolve nagging town/gown issues, which range from noise complaints to lack of affordable housing, Rao has been active this semester working with Amherst officials to improve the relationship between the two groups.

“We as students take for granted that there’s an established community that was already here,” Rao said.

The relationship between local colleges and long-time residents has been known as a complicated one. Businesses rely on the money they make off of students during the academic year, but that revenue comes with some negative side effects.

With so many students in a small town, there is a noticeable change in the family feel of some of the smaller neighborhoods.

Michael Vidal, an Amherst resident who works at Amherst College, said he noticed a difference in town during the school semester and after the students go home.

I’ve lived here for three years and there is definitely a different vibe in town over the summer, I see more families,” Vidal said. “When the academic year begins, it’s like a different world.”

Rao said he thinks that a happy medium can be reached by working with the town.

After last year’s “Blarney Blowout,” which saw dozens of arrests following clashes between police and partygoers, Rao worked with local police in preparation for this year’s Homecoming tailgate to avoid a similar situation.

Working with locals is just what Town Manager John Musante believes these relations need more of. He said he was happy to see SGA officials reaching out to the town and is anticipating similar partnerships in the future.

“SGA president Rao has made it a priority with himself and the entire SGA team to work with the town,” Musante said. “We had a great turnout earlier this year at the meet and greet event and we are both committed to making these meetings regular events.”

Rao said in the past there hasn’t been much communication between town officials and the SGA, and that led to a strained relationship and the creation of a “unique campus ecosystem.”

“UMass has an interesting campus ecosystem. We never really have to leave campus, but we should,” Rao said. “A lot of students forget that we are a part of this town.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Musante.

“Get out and meet your neighbors, there are a lot of people, get to know them,” he said.
Said Avlino: “Ninety-nine percent of the students around here are great. To be honest, we miss them when they’re gone.”

Jason Kotoch can be reached at [email protected]