In town hall meeting, Norton reps, students build better understanding

How would you characterize relations between Wheaton and Norton?” asked a focus question at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Student Government Association on Tuesday, Oct. 28, in the Holman Room of Mary Lyon Hall.

Chair of the Norton Board of Selectmen Mary Steele, the board’s longest standing member Robert Kimball, and other town representatives participated in discussions with students about building stronger relationships between Norton and Wheaton communities.  

Kimball, who has been a member of the board for 19 years, explained that the tradition of elected representatives or Selectmen has been present since 1620 and that the current board is elected every three years. 

He said that this was a volunteer position that was made up of community members who ranged from teachers to firefighters. 

Kimball emphasized that Wheaton College students are recognized as members of the town of Norton. “You’re going to be residents for the next few years so if we haven’t welcomed you before, we welcome you now,” he said.

Kimball also mentioned that relations between the town and college have improved significantly, due in part to former President Ronald Crutcher, who attended town hall meetings twice a year and opened lines of communication. 

“I am confident that President Hanno will continue that and make it work,” he said. Kimball also said that there would be talks to create more opportunities for students to get to know the townspeople. 

To start off the discussions, students said that the misrepresentation of a few students reflected poorly on the entire population at Wheaton. Class of 2016 Senator Adam Kilduff gave an example of rowdy passengers on the GATRA. 

Another student added that “the rudeness and brashness” of these few students may cause a tense situation with residents who do not interact with other members of the Wheaton community in a positive manner. On this issue, Kimball advised students to promote themselves to the greater community when volunteering or helping out in Norton schools. 

Education Council Chair Avi Anshika ’16 pointed out that successful relationships are the result of fulfilled expectations and asked, “What is an ideal Wheaton student to you?” 

Kimball answered that students formed an “invisible population and a city within a city.” He said that the town was always looking for volunteers and that this was a great opportunity to meet its residents. 

Steele added that her son currently attended Wheaton and she found the college “quiet and well-behaved.” She added that talking was the first step and that the “tensions” between the communities should be explicit in order to be solved. 

Programming Council Chair Molly Grannell ‘15 brought up the issue of noise complaints for nighttime events that restricted the planning of such events. Kimball responded that the by-laws did not allow noise above certain decibels after 11 p.m., but this could be ignored during certain times of the year. 

Steele added that there was a problem of miscommunication sometimes and that such events were encouraged if they were informed about it and could notify residents as such. 

Class of 2018 Senator Bjorg Texel brought up the possibility of campus events that Norton residents could attend. Kimball said that there had been events such as “Community Day” in the past when Norton residents were invited on campus to enjoy the work of students and visit the various buildings. 

A volunteer for the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission said that she had planned events for children in the greenhouse and observatory.

Steele added that there was a problem of communication when residents were not aware of Wheaton’s schedule or the fact that the campus was open to them for certain events such as sports games and theatre productions. 

She added that there were many students who are active in local head starts, public schools, the local animal sanctuary, the land preservation society and the town’s soup kitchen among others. “Some people are getting the message and some people aren’t. That’s on both the towns side and the schools side,” she said.

This was followed by a discussion of solutions to inform Norton residents about activities that are taking place on campus. There were suggestions of a page on the Wheaton website, a mailing list, a Facebook community page and a newsletter specifically for the residents of Norton. 

Kimball and Steele provided recommendations of dropping off the college newspaper to the town hall where they met every Thursday and also of informing the local cable access committee that would broadcast notifications of events on campus. 

SGA Treasurer Michael Ratliff ’16 also asked for fundraising activity ideas for clubs on campus. Steele said that this issue of fundraising within a small population was present in the town as well. She added that there was a possibility of events on campus that residents could pay to attend. 

Senator-at-Large Abraham Ziner ’17 also said that there was a potential market on campus and wondered if there had been a push to capitalize on that. 

Kimball answered that there were issues of surge and lack of population but there were possibilities of a selling items such as merchandise celebrating both the Norton and Wheaton community.

Another suggestion was that of partnering with admissions and introducing freshmen to the town of Norton during CORE June or August. It was stated that this relationship with the residents should be formed early on in the college experience. 

Kimball agreed that such an event would be a good opportunity to mingle with new students and also show their families that “We’re parents, too, and there are people besides school mates that they can go to if they need something. We pride ourselves on being a very open community.”

Kilduff rounded off the session with a reminder that an email blast would go out to the campus on November 21 that explains what SGA has been doing with the feedback they have received. 

Until then, on the topic of bettering relationships with Norton residents, Kimball offered the suggestion “When you’re walking down the street and see me raking my lawn, stop to talk to us. Don’t be afraid to approach people and introduce yourself. Norton is a nice community.”