[house 4] Imagine walking your three children down the street to church on an ordinary Sunday morning, having to sidestep vomit, smashed beer bottles, dismantled lawn furniture and demolished light posts.
For “permanent” resident (a term used loosely for those that live in East Lansing longer than students) Nancy Schertzing, this is the worst part about living so close to college students. “Those are the things I cannot, for the life of me, understand why it has to be a part of the culture,” Schertzing said. “That’s not healthy behavior for them and it’s surely not healthy behavior for the people who have to come behind them and clean up their mess. I find it very distressing.” But on most Saturday and Sunday mornings, this is the reality of an East Lansing neighborhood.
Unlike most neighborhoods, for the area north of campus, students and permanent residents live in close proximity to one another, with permanent residents making up the minority on most streets. According the the 2000 U.S. Census, 68 percent of houses in East Lansing are renter-occupied, while only 32 percent are owner-occupied. The total population of the city of East Lansing is 46,525 people, of those 60.2 percent are between the ages of 15-24, which accounts for many of the students at MSU. Permanent residents often choose to live in East Lansing because of jobs connected to the university. There are 9,973 people who work in educational, health and social service occupations in the community.
Longtime resident Helen Draper moved to East Lansing in 1930. Her father was a professor of romance language at MSU. Draper has lived since then, raising her children in the same environment. She also taught at MSU for 12 years and is now a professor at Lansing Community College. She said she loves living in East Lansing because it is “comfortable and the only town I knows really well.”
[house2] For the most part East Lansing permanent residents said they get along with their student neighbors. “On both sides there is a relatively small number of students and non-students who choose not to get along with the other side,” said East Lansing resident Fred Bauries. “You can almost tell the people who are going to have trouble because of their attitude at the start.”
Schertzing and her husband enjoy their student neighbors and keep an open mind about them. Both attended MSU and remember what it’s like being a student. Every fall Schertzing hosts an annual cookout in her front yard to get to know her neighbors. She invites the whole street to participate. She said it is a way to “reach out to our neighbors and let them know that we are OK, that we are friendly, that we are respectful, that we care about them and that we are cool,” Shertzing said with a giggle. She moved to Kedzie Street right after the riots of 1999.
Out of the riots came the Community Relations Coalition. No one understood why students acted outwardly, and the CRC believed it was because there was no relationship between students and permanent residents. It was the first step between university and city officials in recognizing there were problems between permanent residents coexisting with students. “This was the first time city and university officials sat down at the same table and asked, what can we do?” said Ellen Sulka, vice president of the CRC.
The CRC’s motto “We all live here” reinforces that everyone living within the neighborhood has a role in respecting everyone who lives there. “That’s what we are about – talking to people and finding out what is happening, how [residents] are feeling and what can be done that both sides agree on,” said Sulka.
The “keystone” to the CRC is the interns. They are called Neighborhood Resource Coordinators and are students living in highly mixed (students and permanent residents) neighborhoods. NRCs are assigned to different areas of a neighborhood to create a better understanding of one another. The NRC program is open to everyone, but only the most interested and highly qualified are selected. “It is their responsibility to try and get information back from the community,” said Sulka. “They try to create micro-level relationships between neighbors.”
[house 5] Despite the CRC’s efforts there are still ongoing complaints from residents about their student neighbors. The complaints Draper, who is the only householder on Hillcrest Drive, has are with people parking in her driveway. “One time I called the police because [the people] broke the rules.” Draper has also had her car vomited on, loud noises in the early morning and broken glass along sidewalks and driveway.
Schertzing has lived in East Lansing for six years and has only once felt violated. This summer she woke up around 2 a.m. to a booming crash, only to find someone had broken out the rear window of her husband’s car and the side window of their van. “We didn’t feel threatened, but we felt violated in a way,” she said. “We have no idea who the person was and we’re not assuming it was one of our neighbors.” Schertzing lives in the Bailey Neighboorhood, which is from Harrison to Hagadorn and Grand River to Burcham. Bauries is a co-chair as well as a landlord in the Avondale Neighborhood, a smaller neighborhood within Bailey, from Hagadorn to Gunson and Burcham to Beech. This area is about two-thirds student housing and one-third permanent resident housing.
In other neighborhoods there are fewer complaints. “We don’t hear too many complaints, people seem to be able to work out their differences over the fence or at the front door,” Bauries said.
The CRC distributes information packets across the neighborhoods during welcome week every year. Inside the folder is a lot of useful information about the neighborhood and many useful facts about recycling and trash pick-up day, noise ordinance laws, etc. This year the CRC distributed close to 3,000 welcome folders in the highly student-populated areas.
“When students move into the neighborhoods they really don’t understand a lot of what they are moving into,” said Sulka. “[Students] think it’s a lot like the dorms. They don’t know when recycling day is, or people hear about the partying noise ordinance, but don’t know what it is. We break up myths about what is actually happening and get people as much information as possible. We encourage [students] to be aware of where they are living and to act appropriately.”
Bauries thought the information in this year’s welcome folder was a lot more useful than previous years. “I complimented [the CRC] this year on the contents of their neighborhood folders, because instead of having a bunch of coupons they had a lot of useful information,” Bauries said. “The information this year was really solid.”
But the CRC may need to think of a more effective way to disseminate this information. Although residents feel this year’s folder contained more information than previous years, students are still not reading the material. Communication senior Dave Novara said he “skimmed [the folder] and threw it away.” He said he has no problem meeting his neighbors but wonders if permanent residents understand where students are coming from.
Some residents, like Draper and Schertzing, try to understand and remember what it was like being a college student. Draper said students should have some fun, but also wonders why kids have to go to the bars so many nights a week. “I’m not faulting young people’s values but it never would have happened in my days,” she said. Draper said she chooses to live in East Lansing because she enjoys watching the young people coming and going. “They are excited about life,” she said.
In spite of how it seems, most permanent residents enjoy living around campus. Bauries has lived in East Lansing since 1967 in the same home with his family. He enjoys living here and likes interacting with students. “Some of us have been here a long time and we remain here not because we have to, but because we like where we are.” When Sulka was an NRC she found her neighbors liked living around students. “They like the activity, the urban atmosphere and being close to things that are going on.”
Students tend to start their days later and end their nights quite a bit after permanent residents go to bed. Often students are unaware of the lifestyle differences of their neighbors, which causes tension between them. Unlike the dorms, where students are surrounded only by students, neighborhoods are mixed with students and permanent residents and it takes time to get used to. Problems most often occur when students and permanent residents do not introduce themselves and talk out their issues. “Once you start talking to people, [students] begin to understand,” Sulka said. “I think it’s an awareness and lifestyle issue.”
Sulka also believes the CRC is becoming more widely known throughout campus. “The process is slow, but learning about each other and forming that partnership between the city and university of recognizing that you need each other, this first step has played a critical role and has already been done,” Sulka said.
To help facilitate the partnership, the city has organized Meet Your Neighbor Day, which is Nov. 13. This day was approved by the city to help ease some of the ongoing tension between students and permanent residents. As for the CRC, while their work is headed in the right direction, they only have seven NRC’s and none of them cover the large area from Abbot Road to Collingwood Drive. The NRC’s are also lacking in diversity, which may have something to do with why they do not reach as large of a student populace as they would like to.
While students and residents have made strides living alongside each other, with and without the help of the CRC, some residents still believe riots could happen in the future. Every year, a new population of young adults moves on to campus. “If more people really try to be aware of how easy it is to tip the balance one way or the other that I think we don’t have to have large-scale celebrations turning into a riot situation,” Schertzing offered. She also believes East Lansing and MSU have taken measures to make sure riots like 1999’s do not get out of hand.
“I don’t think there is a reason for us to be physically scared, but I think that constant education and passing on of institution knowledge and awareness are key in making sure we don’t have another situation like the one we did in 1999,” she said.
It’s 2005, years from 1999, and the other side of the fence shouldn’t seem so far away. So, if you’re on the front porch and a permanent resident is walking their children by your house, introduce yourself. They were students once, too.

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