Tree Streets neighborhood wants ETSU frats out, university considering move to campus
By Nate Morabito, Investigative Reporter - bio | email
Loud parties early in the morning, fights, and people screaming don't make it easy for neighbors to try and raise a family.
People who live in Johnson City's historic Tree Streets say that's their reality and they blame it on the four East Tennessee State University fraternities that share the neighborhood.
Fraternities have been a part of the Tree Streets for decades, but the Southside Neighborhood Organization has had enough. Members say they want the fraternities to move out of the neighborhood. They've already reached out to new ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland, hoping his new leadership will bring change.
"It's time for them to move back on campus," Southside Neighborhood Organization Greek Committee Liaison Lisa Orr said. "It's twice a month where you cannot sleep at night. My quality of life has just plummeted. Southside Neighborhood Organization has been through three presidents with this issue. I would like to be able to enjoy my backyard and I would like my neighbors to enjoy the neighborhood again. I would like to have our family neighborhood back."
ETSU leaders say they have had some preliminary conversations about moving the fraternities on campus. According to Vice Provost and Dean of Students Dr. Joe Sherlin, there will be a feasibility study this spring to see if it is a good idea.
"We have had some preliminary conversations with fraternity presidents and advisers from chapters and we anticipate having a more formal conversation this spring," Dr. Sherlin said. "We can make a more informed decision after a reasonable feasibility review. I think it potentially could be beneficial to the Greek system here on the campus. I know there are folks on the Tree Streets who would like to see the fraternities move back to campus and we understand that position, that perspective."
The problems with the four fraternities reached a peak a couple of years ago. In 2010, Johnson City police were called out to the fraternities 42 times. In 2011, they responded 44 times. During 2012 the numbers were much lower, just 24 calls.
Dr. Sherlin says that is a sign things are improving. However, he says every year there are roughly three to five disciplinary hearings involving fraternities. According to Dr. Sherlin, there is still room for improvement.
"We want them and expect them to be good neighbors," Dr. Sherlin said. "We're going to work with them and the police and the community in that regard. We expect more and we expect to improve in terms of our relationships on the Tree Streets and we're going to work to hold those folks accountable."
While ETSU explores the idea of moving the fraternities on campus, in the meantime, neighbors are going to have to find a way to get along. Interfraternity Council President Adam Jarvis says the new house leaders who took over in January are trying to build a better relationship.
"I understand (the Southside Neighborhood Organization's) concerns and we definitely hear their concerns and we're trying to be proactive in our communication with them," Jarvis, an ETSU junior, said. "We encourage the members and the leadership team of each fraternity to be proactive neighbors and reach out to their neighbors every year and build a strong relationship and communication. I think they are doing a great job with improving those relationships as we move through the new year and with the new leadership teams that we have in place. We understand that there's been problems in the past and we've been trying to address that and work through that, again going back to a new leadership team being in place every year, it's creating the atmosphere where they understand their past and try to move forward and not let it repeat itself."
The Johnson City Police Department also meets annually with the new fraternity leaders. During those meetings, officers talk with them about their fraternity's past problems and how they can work together to avoid future issues. JCPD also works closes with ETSU and the Southside Neighborhood Organization to address concerns.
"(The fraternity members) live out there, they live in the community, so they have to be good neighbors, so that's what we encourage them to be," JCPD Chief Mark Sirois said. "We think that they want to do the right thing, but we want to help them to do the right thing. If it's education, fine, if it's enforcement, then we'll do that as well."
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