Written by Blair Peppe
Last Friday night, I took the campus shuttle from Bard to Tivoli. As I was stepping off the bus with a surprisingly small group of roughly ten to twelve students, the driver shouted out the door:
“You guys are going to keep Tivoli nice and quiet tonight, right?”
Some students mumbled in agreement while others ignored the driver and shuffled off the bus.
Tensions around noise levels have been growing between Bard students and the village community in Tivoli for years. Many students have begun to feel frustrated and have perceived an increase in police presence and ticketing around town. Simultaneously, non-student residents of Tivoli who supported the new implementation of the “nuisance gathering” laws continue to argue and support the validity of these laws. One can examine this conflict between Bard college students and the village as a case study: it demonstrates how we as citizens of a democratic society take action when we are in disagreement with or wish to mobilize our local government. Constituents disturbed by the noise levels in Tivoli elected Mayor Griffith, a politician and Bard alum, who also recognizes the impact of late-night noise on the quality of life for residents. In response, concerned Bard students have made attempts to voice their concerns to the mayor in person and even attended the Tivoli community potlucks. However, there has been no public statement as of yet suggesting changes to the “nuisance gathering” laws.
Differing relationships to governments are not a new or emerging topic, as is evidenced by the local and national conversations on this subject. For instance, the overarching theme of this years Hannah Arendt Conference was “Citizenship and Civil Disobedience.” One of the central topics frequently referred to in many of the presentations was the methods and strategies used to protest governments. Many argue that self-advocacy in our current political climate has become increasingly difficult in recent years, particularly public modes such as protest. Some believe communication with the government through these venues has become ineffective for producing legislation-changing outcomes.
As more students began to discuss these ticketing and policing practices, I decided that I wanted to better understand the situation and met with Mayor Griffith to discuss the conflict. Mayor Griffith is a lifelong resident of Tivoli as well as an alum of Bard college (MFA class of ‘03), which gives him a unique perspective on the growing tension between these two communities. He explained to me that the “nuisance gathering” laws were implemented as a response to multiple complaints from his constituents. Concerns ran the gamut, including parents who complained about their children walking through broken beer bottles and vomit to get to the Tivoli bus stop. The Mayor says that noise issues in Tivoli have become most salient in the past ten years, which is what prompted him to pass the nuisance gathering laws.
“Reasonable man law” is the name of the noise policy Tivoli Mayor Griffith has increased implementation of. In summary, this law says that if an individual is in a building and across the property line of a different building which is emitting a level of noise found disturbing by that particular individual, then the person causing the noise is disturbing the peace and therefore at risk of receiving a $150 ticket. If you receive a noise ticket you have the option to go to court and argue against the reasonableness of the individual who lodged the complaint against you. There are two ways a person can get a noise ticket. A noise complaint can be made by one of their neighbors, or a police officer on patrol can ticket the person. This law seeks to prevent gatherings conducted within the town limits of Tivoli and may result in a $150 fine if any of the following conditions or events occur are witnessed by police: disorderly conduct, unlawful possession of alcohol, public urination or defecation, littering, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, unlawful damage or destruction of public or personal property, an unlawful pedestrian or vehicle, trespassing, and indecent exposure.
Tivoli village has a lot of unique characteristics which further complicates the situation. For example: in this article, I frequently refer to Bard students and Tivoli residents as two separate groups. However, the truth is the two overlap more frequently than some people acknowledge— a large portion of residents in Tivoli share some form of connection to Bard, either as alumni, professors,etc.. The village faces the pressure of catering to a number of different demographics which must coexist in the same area. Despite this mixed population and exposure to the college, Tivoli remains a small village unequipped to live up to the traditional “college town” label. Bard students also face limitations in campus and social life, frequently turning to Tivoli when looking to spend time with friends off-campus or pursuing night-life experiences.
The first noise law was drafted by local government in Tivoli in 1997, The same year that the Bard shuttle to Tivoli started running. The shuttle initially started as a six-seater van. It helped promote transportation safety among Bard students (providing an alternative to walking down 9g in the dark), but the local government also recognized it as facilitating the growth of a disruptive party culture in Tivoli. In 2011, the Bard shuttle had grown from a small van to a larger bus as a result of the school’s increasing student population. When Mayor Griffith was elected he implemented the “nuisance gathering” laws, increased regulation of noise laws, and increased noise ticket fines from $50 to $150.
As mentioned earlier in this article, Bard students living in Tivoli have also perceived an increase in police presence as a result of these regulations. Students have reported seeing police cars at the Bard shuttle stop and, on a few occasions, outside student homes sitting in the dark with their lights off. These officers actually come from outside of the town, since Tivoli doesn’t have its own police department. They spend 5% of their budget on hiring police from Red Hook or Dutchess County for night patrol. In relation to the Reasonable Man Law, the Mayor says that since police officers take an oath of office, they are, by law, the very definition of a “reasonable man” and therefore fit to follow the guidelines of the policy and help keep Tivoli safe and peaceful at night.
However, the current political climate has also revealed to us that simply raising one’s right hand and repeating words back to an officiator does not mean they can automatically be reasonable under any circumstances. The removal or deregulation of police night patrolling has not been considered an option by the mayor, who says his one priority is safety. However, in allowing a heavier regulation of police officers, multiple Bard student residents have grown increasingly uncomfortable living in Tivoli. Students have reported that the overuse of policing powers is actually making them feel less safe.
There are traditional solutions to solving the tension surrounding Bard students and non-student residents of Tivoli. The Mayor is happy and willing to meet with any student who wants to voice their concerns. The mayor also suggests Bard students attend Tivoli community potlucks to further bridge the divide. Tivoli is small, and because of its size, when one Bard student decides to get too drunk and act inappropriately on village property at night (public urination, littering, yelling, etc.), the entire village is more likely to remember that one student’s behavior and lump the entire Bard population together. The history of relations between Bard and Tivoli are essentially a collection of such lumping, years of individual incidents by either party being relayed back as indicative of the whole community.
To open communications, each community has to revisit their ability to see the complexity and individuality of the other. Student recklessness is a well-documented phenomenon at many colleges, and local hostility towards established university often thrives despite generations of community work. A Tivoli-Bard relationship that surpasses the narrative building since 1997 requires each group to go out of their way to understand the other, to know what dynamics they draw on as they act in relation, and to practice the courtesy they wish to see in the community. In addition, the creation and attendance of more community events may help alleviate these tensions in the future, as well as a heightened sense of peer accountability with appropriate late-night conduct. Tivoli and Bard have the potential to model strong communication and the striving for compromise and contentedness. However, the student population at Bard is anything but static, and the shifting and changing relationships between these communities are far from over. Only time will tell what each will ultimately be able to learn from the other.