Student conduct at SantaCon, to the degree that it violated the law, disrespected town resident’s property and sent pounds of litter afloat into the Sound, was unacceptable. However, the characterization of the entire student body as “entitled” on behalf of a diverse pool of hooligans is unfair. 

Several town residents criticized Fairfield students’ “culture of entitlement” and lack of community engagement at last week’s Santacon forum. Many Fairfield community members responded to the Town of Fairfield’s recent Facebook post, backing Fairfield students’ integrity and advocating for their chance to participate in such scathing conversations.

“Putting this in perspective there are perhaps 5 big party days each year and the remainder of the time the Universities bring educated, kind, hard working young adults to our community,” commented town resident Carol Kagdis.

Another facebook commenter, Dierdre Rosen, added,“Doesn’t seem very transparent to hold a meeting and not include students from the community to participate… don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater folks. Kids will be kids, and these kids are adding a lot to your community!” 

Having attended the forum, Campus Minister for Community Engagement Katie Byrnes expressed her disappointment with certain residents’ condemnation of students’ character. 

“It makes me really sad when our students are cast with a broad brush about being entitled,” she remarked. “There are so many students who do amazing work every day.”

“Those stories never get covered,” Byrnes stated, discussing a lack of acknowledgement toward students’ good works. “We cover a lot of trash on the beach, but we don’t cover that students clean the beach every Sunday…We’ve got to focus on both sides.”

Curious to investigate the extent to which Fairfield students contribute to Fairfield’s community, The Rearview reached out to campus officials and student service coordinators for comments and additional context. 

“We have about 200 students a week who do regular ongoing service,” Byrnes shared about campus ministry service opportunities. Programs for students to engage in service are many, and take place in both Fairfield and Bridgeport. 

(All photos courtesy of Fairfield University’s Campus Ministry Department)

Some of campus ministry’s service programs include, but are not limited to: working with children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities through programs such as Best Buddies and Big Brothers Big Sisters, volunteering at food pantries and soup kitchens , participating in elementary school pen pal service, packaging medical supplies bound for Ukraine, working in the memory care unit at a local nursing home, working at a homeless shelter specializing in support for veterans and victims of domestic violence and participating in a weekly beach clean up.

“I very rarely have a service opportunity that I put up on Life@Fairfield or I send out that people don’t jump on. In fact, they’re often more limited,” Byrnes relayed. 

Megan Farrell, a Fairfield junior, was especially troubled by the harsh comments made by town residents. Through her campus ministry participation working on their Service Leadership Council, Farrell has been able to witness firsthand Fairfield students’ positive impact on surrounding communities. 

The Service Leadership Council is a campus group who regularly meets to brainstorm, organize and promote new opportunities for dedicated students to serve. With a front row seat to campus service, Farrell has learned just how much goes on behind the scenes when planning volunteer opportunities available for participants. 

She was extremely disheartened after being made aware of the recent scrutiny the University community has received. 

“I really wish residents could see just how many emails I receive about students wanting to get involved with service through Fairfield U,” Farrell expressed.

While emphasizing the multitude of service options available to students, Farrell thought back to some of her personal favorites.

“I have organized events relating to animals and services in the past… One specific example would be the Equine therapy program. This program offers multiple locations for students to choose from to help out with the horses and therapy programs these horse farms are involved in.” 

She proudly recalled many students reaching out to her, excited to get involved. Overall, her experiences organizing service have led her to perceive beach residents’ comments as both unfair and inaccurate. 

Farrell admitted, “Hearing words like these are disheartening and may cause those who are involved in service to feel as though their work is underappreciated, which is something we do not want!” 

Beyond Campus Ministry, students make a difference in the community through the Center for Social Impact, which averages “11,000 hours of contribution to local community organizations” each year, according to its Director, Melissa Quan.

CSI hosts over 40 community-engaged learning courses at Fairfield, and enrolls more than 630 students in its programming. 

According to Quan, community-engaged learning courses at Fairfield have recently volunteered at Fairfield Public Schools, worked with the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition, helped at the Pequot Library and partnered with the Mill River Wetland Committee.

Furthermore, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson shared information about student athletes’ service, detailing numerous events that athletes and other students partake in around town. The most notable of these activities and events are the Student Athlete Day of Service, volunteering at the Colony Grill 5k as well as community service with Al’s Angels, Cancer Couch, Operation Hope, Woofgang & Co. and other organizations.

Speaking to the recent events at SantaCon, which deeply angered many town residents, Byrnes warned against painting Fairfield University’s student body with such broad strokes. 

“There tends to be this sort of grouping where everyone who was involved…they were all drunk. They were all peeing on everyone’s yards. And that’s not the case, right? By and large that wasn’t the case.”

More than this, Byrnes emphasized the learning curve some students undergo as undergraduates. 

“There are always a few students who… don’t make the best decisions. I also get to work with them through the dean’s office… and most of what they do can be categorized as ‘five seconds of stupid.’”

Further, Byrnes contextualized students’ unruly behavior in context of a larger process of learning, saying, “It’s another lesson, right? You’re here to learn and to grow what you know in math and science and history and marketing—some of that is personal experience, too.”

Undoubtedly, neither illegal actions nor unruly, vulgar and life-threatening behaviors should be tolerated.

Fundamentally, students at Fairfield are undertaking a learning process, striving to become men and women in service of others— this truth brings responsibility with it. 

The actions of a minority cannot and should not be used to define such a wide population of students. While certain behavior at SantaCon was destructive, there are countless examples of positive and constructive actions on part of Fairfield students in the wider community. 

Students at Fairfield take part in awesome work everyday whether through service, academics, athletics, research, student government, artistic involvement or other interests. The decision to discount these achievements outright after every unruly social event discounts students’ depth and paints them as one dimensional kids. 

Generalizing is always dangerous, especially when the numbers speak for themselves. With hundreds of students participating in community programs, Fairfield University cannot be considered inactive within its community. 

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