Last Wednesday, The Miami Student hosted a public safety forum, City Matters, which was attended by Oxford and Miami officials. The event was moderated by assistant news editor Céilί Doyle and editor-in-chief Emily Williams. It covered topics including the Good Samaritan policy, recent hazing allegations against Miami fraternities and town-gown relations in Oxford.
Staffers at The Miami Student first discussed hosting a community-wide discussion about safety concerns in Oxford after this newspaper published an article about strain on the Oxford Fire Department’s (OFD) resources.
The article, “Burnt out: OFD staff stretched thin,” published on Oct. 24, 2017, and written by Doyle, discussed students’ use of emergency services, often for alcohol-related incidents.
An increase in incidents
Miami and Oxford police experienced an increase in EMS calls last semester: between Aug. 1 and Oct. 1, there were 426 calls, compared to 361 calls during the same period the previous year and 355 the year before that. Many of these calls were alcohol-related.
Whether this is because more people are making bad decisions or just because more people are asking for help is unclear, said OFD chief John Detherage. This increase was likely caused, in part, by increased enrollment at the university, Detherage noted.
Dean of Students Mike Curme suggested the increase could also be related to the Good Samaritan policy, which allows for one emergency call without concern for arrest.
“We would rather have people call than not call,” said Miami University Police Department (MUPD) Captain Ben Spilman.
“There’s a fear that we’re on borrowed time,” said city councilman Mike Smith. “That if we were to have a significant fire event on a Thursday or Friday or Saturday, that would pull all of the fire professionals away and they wouldn’t be able to assist the students.”
The reverse is also true: There may come a day when police and firefighters are too busy attending to students to respond quickly enough to a serious fire event.
The many instances of overconsumption of alcohol also puts a strain on health professionals at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital.
Pam Collins, Chief Patient Services Officer at McCullough-Hyde, described a typical busy weekend night at the hospital.
She explained how many healthcare workers have had experiences where intoxicated patients hit them, cursed at them, urinated or vomited on them.
Detherage said the ambulance has needed repairs after being damaged on some calls.
“Yes, we’re there for everyone,” Collins said. “But it is very challenging to take care of people when we know that if different choices had been made… they could have taken care of themselves and still had a good time.”
Looking for a solution
Doyle asked the panelists if they would support adding a fee to Miami’s tuition that would go toward Oxford’s municipal facilities, especially the fire department.
However, City Manager Doug Elliott said university employees already provide more than half of the city’s income tax revenue, and that incurring such a fee would impact low-income students already straining to pay tuition. Curme added that he was not sure it was legal to use tuition money in that way.
One solution offered was a change in culture regarding drinking and hazing. Student surveys revealed that most students do not approve of blackout drinking, but they do think that other students approve of it, Curme said.
“We have a norm-ing problem, where students think that blacking out is more normal than it is,” Curme said. “We need to re-stigmatize that behavior.”
The panel also discussed the suspension of fraternity activities due to reports of hazing, announced on Tuesday by Miami’s Interfraternity Council (IFC).
In these cases, the panel members emphasized that people needed to step out and report incidents so that police can actually investigate and take action.
“If you come forward and report these events, you could be saving a life,” Smith said. “We need to change the culture that threatens the idea of reporting hazing.”
Bridging the gap
The panel also discussed the importance of collaboration between permanent residents of Oxford and Miami students.
“The problems are caused by a very small number of students… Everyone needs to realize that,” Detherage said.
Spilman said that MUPD has criminal contact with less than 2 percent of students per year. However, because Oxford is a such a small town, the students that make up the 2 percent are a highly visible minority, he said.
Miami students are active in the community; some serve on government boards and commissions, and some go through EMS and fire training. Such interactions are encouraged, Smith said.
Curme said that Oxford residents highly value their individual relations with students, but the community as a whole has a more negatively skewed perception, due to the actions of a few.
“We need compromise on both sides,” Jones said. “Residents need to remember that they were young once. Students need to remember they are living in a community with families and children.”