Mansfield residents sound off about UConn students off-campus parties

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MANSFIELD — An incident involving the death of a UConn student after an off-campus party is fueling neighbors to push for change.

Mansfield resident, Rebecca Shafer, showed up to the court hearing for University of Connecticut students facing alcohol-related charges connected to the death of student Jeffny Pally who was run over by a campus fire department vehicle.

Shafer wanted to see if any representatives from UConn or the town of Mansfield would be there.

She said she’s lived in the town her entire life and in her Mansfield home for nearly two decades. Shafer has noticed a growth in off-campus parties as the campus has grown.

Shafer said the amount of students that live off campus surpasses the number of Mansfield town residents.

“All of those additional students are out in the neighborhoods and that's just a huge responsibility and a change in the character in our neighborhoods,” Shafer said. “There are 460 off campus rentals in the town of Mansfield and the majority of those are student rentals.”

The home next door to Shafer's house was rented out to students. She said their parties get out of control and it worried her about the safety of the students and people that live in the neighborhood.

“It’s an underage binge drinking party taking place in our neighborhood till 2:00 in the morning,” she said. “They were just wandering the streets, falling down drunk.”

Shafer created the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group and learned there were many other community members feeling the same way.

“It destroys neighborhoods, it destroys quality of life. I think it is a tremendous disservice to the students themselves who are not safe,” 25-year resident Alison Hilding said.

Hilding said this issue has pushed people to move out of the area. In-turn, absentee landlords are purchasing the property and renting it to more students.

“I believe that the university has abrogated its responsibility for the students to the community who was not prepared to resolve the problems associated with off campus drinking and partying,” she said.

Members of the group feel that UConn should be responsible for housing more students on campus and are worried that as the campus grows, the amount of students living off campus will grow.

A University spokesperson said about 70-percent of undergraduates live on campus and students have the option to be on campus throughout their undergraduate career.

She said growth has leveled off because state allocation of funding hasn’t kept up. If that were to change, there would be opportunities for a new dorm.

UConn said it is sensitive to neighbors concerns which is why it has the "Office for Off-campus Student Services," meeting with residents to talk about quality of life issues. It also does outreach to students about the importance of being a good neighbor.

If students on or off-campus break the UConn code of conduct, for example drink underage, the spokesperson said they can face disciplinary action.

Residents feel that it is not enough and want the town to step in.

“We want to convert our neighborhoods back to owner/occupied neighborhoods again and we want the university to house their students on campus,” Shafer said.