"You honk we drink," the yard sign instructed drivers as they drove by the house on Woodland Avenue. One car honked and a student standing on the porch took a swig from his can.
A line of cars, laden with the possessions of freshmen, traveled past University of Minnesota Duluth students on the sidewalks holding signs with messages about sex and alcohol on Tuesday in what has become an annual move-in day tradition along the route from Interstate 35 to campus.
But among the students on Tuesday, members of the Rock Hill Community Church held signs on 21st Avenue East stating "Welcome to Duluth" and "You have so much value and worth." Any students walking past also received free pop and snacks and a high-five from Kyle Eaton, one of the church's pastors. The church decided to hold positive signs on move-in day for the first time as a way to counteract the negative messages that are usually displayed, Eaton said.
"I just thought what if we changed the message a little bit? Welcome to this great city," Eaton said. "I think a lot of it, especially targeted at the young freshmen girls - we just want to say, 'Hey, you have meaning and value and worth.'"
After what Duluth police say was a particularly bad year last year for student behavior on move-in day, UMD and police leaders collaborated on a game plan for this year to encourage students to make good decisions and be safe while having fun, Duluth Police Lt. Chad Nagorski said. He added that he received comments on Tuesday from both officers and neighborhood residents that move-in day was better this year.
"Hopefully we can keep on progressing forward and having that balance where people can still have a good time, but they also make good choices," he said.
UMD had a new initiative this year for students to win prizes for decorating their rental property yards to welcome freshmen in positive ways. Non-student residents in the neighborhood were offered "welcome to UMD" yard signs. Lisa Erwin, UMD's vice chancellor of student life, personally delivered the signs to residents on Sunday and said she was pleased to be able to talk with residents.
"We're excited about this first year. I'm anxious to try it again and then build it into a tradition," Erwin said.
At a rental house on College Street, a small group of 21-and-older students were hanging out, jumping on a trampoline and playing yard games. They weren't playing music because they didn't want to disrupt their neighbors. Signs saying "welcome 2 the best 4 years of ur life" and "welcome home baby Bulldogs" hung on the fence. The house's residents, UMD seniors Brynna Ringham, Samantha Stocke and Jade Dailey, were keeping a strict eye on who was there, immediately asking to see IDs from anyone trying to enter the property and kicking out people they didn't know.
"We want everyone who's of age to still have a good time, but we want to spread a positive message about UMD," Stocke said.
The negative signs shine a poor light on their school and they said they found the signs "intimidating" when they were new students arriving on campus. They explained that positive signs can make students excited rather than worried about being at UMD.
"When you roll up and see those negative signs, you're kinda like, 'oh gosh, I don't know if I'm going to fit in with these people.' When you see the positive ones, it's just like, 'OK, I'm going to have no issue making friends here, like this is a super welcoming university and community.' We want more people to come here and we want people feel like this is where they belong and this is home," Dailey said.
The problem last year was that "a large group of people just hopped from party to party to party and there's a lot of renters that didn't want the party at their house, but the large group just kinda showed up," Duluth Police Lt. Chad Nagorski said. Police ended up showing up at each party because the group would spill into the streets and block the sidewalks, causing some year-round residents in the neighborhood to not want to go outside with their young children during that time. The goal this year was to ensure that they didn't have as many large groups "roaming around," he said.
Jack Newsom, a senior at UMD, was leaving a party in a fenced-in backyard off Woodland Street where he said everyone was older than 21, but police disbanded it due to neighbors' complaints and the tenants were cited. He understands the police department's zero-tolerance for underage drinking, but took issue with officers breaking up the party when it was in a backyard and everyone was of legal drinking age. He said he wished the officers had given a warning first before citations.
"We're being civil. We're not doing anything crazy. I understand that in the past, it's gotten crazy and that's why they're cracking down," he said. "This is one of the best weeks of the year for everybody and we come out (to have) a good time, seeing friends we haven't seen all summer."
They didn't have as many students outside drinking as early as they have in past years, Nagorski said. He added that officers had a lot of positive interactions on Tuesday, although some citations were given and a few parties were broken up.
Duluth and UMD police cars patrolled 21st Avenue East and Woodland Avenue continuously on Tuesday, but police officers began working to mitigate disruptive behaviors in advance of move-in day. Erwin noted that university officials spent last fall talking with students about ways to improve the move-in day experience and they heard that students wanted more clarity about expectations for off-campus parties. This year, Duluth police laid out those expectations ahead of time in an email to landlords whose properties received the most violations in years past and in an informational letter to rental properties. Two community officers visited 110 rental properties along the route to deliver the letter and have a face-to-face conversation with students, Nagorski said.
In addition to providing the websites for city ordinances and state statutes, the letters stated that officers would have "zero tolerance" on Tuesday for violations that included underage drinking and alcohol possession in public, which Nagorski said are the most frequent citations given to students on move-in day.
The student tenants at Barbara Montee's rental property on Woodland took it upon themselves to put yellow caution tape around the front yard to keep groups of students from gathering there - and to keep any potential citations at bay. Montee, who lives in the neighborhood, was on hand to check on her property and walk through the neighborhood to pick up litter left behind by students. She said she'd like the city to be more "embracing" of UMD's move-in day and turn it into a positive, festive event because the students benefit Duluth.
"Embrace students. If this is one day a year where we could all come out and hold signs and give water, grill hot dogs - let's turn it into kind of a Grandma's Marathon event. Why not? We know it happens every year. We know it's not going away," she said.