A break with reality

| Forum Editor

If you attended the city council meeting this past Monday, you could sense the palpable tension between the students and the residents there to address the mess that is the off-campus living situation south of the Loop. Both sides were respectful, and both made valid arguments. I understand the pain of, and sympathize with, the Ames place residents who have endured the obnoxious behavior of college students for years and years, but one thought kept crossing my mind. Washington University has been here for a long, long time. The Loop has been an epicenter of nightlife for St. Louis for quite a while. At what point do you buy a house in a neighborhood in between these two focal points of social activity and expect a quiet and peaceful existence? It would seem to me, and I don’t mean to be demeaning here, that the four or five blocks in between Wash. U. and the Loop would be an extremely noisy and disruptive area.

There are a couple of constants that we have to deal with when looking at this situation. College students will never be a dormant, quiet subset of the human race, and we don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Ames place residents will always want us to be that dormant, quiet subset, and I’m fairly sure they have no intention of selling their homes, packing up and leaving either. It seems we are at a crossroads. The first step is discussion, and I believe that proposed committee is a giant step in that direction, yet I am pessimistic that neither side will truly get what they want.

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I believe there is an inherent disconnect in the discrepancy between reactions to the behavior of students on and off-campus. As an underclassman, drinking in your dorm is overlooked, almost encouraged. On campus, there are no consequences for noise, as students wander from their rooms to Frat Row or to other dorms. As we become juniors and seniors, our social nexus moves from campus, off-campus. The shift in scenery is due not only to a lack of housing on-campus, mostly for seniors, but if your friends are all located off-campus, chances are you are going to be socializing off-campus. With age comes responsibility, but it’s highly unreasonable to expect seniors, who have been drinking and shouting liberally on campus for three years, to suddenly switch their behavior as a consequence of their housing. Obviously upperclassmen want to be able to enjoy their last year, and what they have learned to enjoy is now not permissible just beyond the borders of campus, in an area that they are almost forced to live due to a lack of campus housing.

What I’m saying is controversial, and I’m being one-sided in my perception of the circumstances. But I’m a student, and we are all students. College is about academia, but who has ever heard that college isn’t “the best four years of your life?” I’d be hard pressed to find someone who thought that meant being so silent that girls can’t even wear high heels on their way to and from a bar or campus because they click too loudly. Compromises need to be made, and I know that students are willing to make them, but I also think that behind the tensions there are unreasonable expectations concerning the behavior of students.

  • Anonymous

    To respond to an article you obviously thought was inappropriate with an equally disrespectful response further illustrates one of the key problems in the situation – a lack of communication. Blog posts, newspaper articles, and calling the police are not going to help remedy the situation. I understand that students living off-campus must respect the rights of the neighborhood and its inhabitants, however to say that the residents have rights and the students do not is wrong. Are the students not paying rent to? Doesn’t that payment gain them the same access to the rights which “are actually codified in local law”?

    I think students should be held responsible for their actions, and I find it hard to believe that any WashU student will disagree with you on that, but to instill the Zero Tolerance Policy is making a very gray issue black and white. It no longer takes A LOT to warrant a phone call to the police, now a door slamming after 10 pm gets you a visit. How is this fair? The next time you accidentally set off your car alarm going to work at 6 in the morning, am I allowed to respond? I would argue no but under the Zero Tolerance Policy, I could and you would be forced to be taken to jail and then pay at least $100 bail.

    As a future resident of U-City, I do not want to move into this situation. You said one of your concerns was that once these seniors leave it will just happen again. There are sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have been dealing with this issue. We would all love to find a solution that would allow us to have a cook-out or a few people over without fear of going to jail. I definitely think there is a compromise out there if people will stop ranting at each other and as you said “actually listen”.

    I don’t understand why the police had to be involved in the first place. As you said, “Heaven forbid we expect WashU students to act like adults?”. When you have a problem with your other neighbors do you automatically call the police? I would hope not. I also hope that this Zero Tolerance Policy can be replaced with a fairer policy that treats the undergraduate students with some respect instead of second class citizens.

  • Response to anonymous

    To “anonymous” – I appreciate your viewpoint and completely agree that WashU undergrads need to learn how to conduct themselves maturely when living in a residential neighborhood. I think that this article misses the point that we are trying to make. We are not asking to be able to throw crazy parties until all hours of the night; we are asking to be treated decently and appropriately by local law enforcement.

    You accuse the writer of not “really listening” at the meeting. It confuses me, then, when you assert that “it takes A LOT to warrant a phone call to the police.” Were you listening at the meeting? If you were, then you would have heard one of the students tell a story about playing wiffleball in her backyard with some friends without alcohol or music in the middle afternoon on a weekend. They had a complaint filed against them and were asked to disperse or head inside. It’s possible that you were in the bathroom at this point and if that is the case I apologize; I’m not sure what other reason you would have for making that point given that you are such an attentive listener.

    We agree that excessive noise warrants legal action. We are simply stating that that action is being taken too far. The zero tolerance noise policy strips officers of their discretion. They often arrive at the scene of a complaint with several cars and 4 or more officers to handle an entirely cooperative student. If you think that this is a good use of UCity’s law enforcement resources than you clearly do not have a strong grasp of the more serious drug and violence problems that this community faces. Police have entered residences and issued citations without noise complaints ever having been filed for parties that were not audible from the outside and that they were only aware of by following students. One student that I know was stopped by an officer on his way home from campus and questioned intensely about his previous whereabouts. There had been a party in that area and the officer was looking for someone to arrest. When this student had thoroughly convinced the officer that he had had nothing to do with this party, he was asked to walk roughly 20-30 minutes out of his way to get home because otherwise he would walk into the area where the party had taken place and should expect to get arrested. “anonymous,” I hope that you would ask to be treated in the same way as this student was.

    This article represents one student’s viewpoint, not the off-campus community’s best arguments. You say that the the “residents, city, police, and [our] own University are supportive of the policy.” In doing so, you neglect the fact that we too are residents of UCity, that the city council was supportive of making the council that was asked for, and that the University will be forced to reform its stance if it is true that policies are being selectively enforced against its students. We aren’t all looking to “act like wild animals” and throw disruptive parties until all hours of the night. We are simply asking to be treated decently by a police force and local community that seems to harbor intense disdain towards past student residents with whom we share no relation whatsoever.

  • anonymous

    I think that the residents tolerate quite a lot and have no problems with living in a vibrant community. In fact, i suspect they are attracted to that vibrancy. The complaints are about EXCESSIVE behavior not the hussle and bussle of living between campus and the Loop or the occassional noise. They put up with a lot and it takes A LOT to warrant a phone call to the police. No one calls the police because of high heels. I was at the council meeting and the speaker used that just as an example of how easily noise carries, not of as an example of excessive noise. Your mischaracterization of what she said is not only unfair but is evidence that you weren’t really listening as she tried to explain to you why excessive noise is such an issue in the neighborhood. If you can hear someone walking in heels can you imagine how loud yelling is at 1 a.m.? It can come from a distance and sound like your front yard. Using such rhetoric and exaggeration only diminishes your credibility.

    You also have to be fair. You don’t even address that undergrads did not live in these apartments until fairly recently. You also ignore that this isn’t just about noise. Vandalism, public urination, theft, fighting, trespass, and littering all accompany these parties…noise is only the first indication of what is to come. Residents have spent thousands repairing vandalism caused by rowdy students. Since the policy there has been a decline in all of those things. Why? Because parties don’t get a chance to get out of hand.

    A private residential subdivision is NOT campus. And these houses have also been there for a LONG time. If you are going to be a good citizen then you need to appreciate your surroundings and act like a responsible adult or suffer the consequences. No amout of task forces or committees will excuse bad behavior. If you want to party you need to live on campus and not in a residential community. Even if headway is made with this group of students, they will be leaving in a month…then what? I can only think that these students just want to party at the end of the semester and be able to get away with it. The only true solution is to move undergrads out of residential neighborhoods and to make these apartments graduate student apartments.

    I find your statement that it is “highly unreasonable” to expect educated and smart seniors to act appropriately and appreciate their surroundings and the law insulting to the students and evidence of the sense of entitlement that is a huge part of this problem. Student’s don’t have a “right” to party. But the residents do have rights and these rights are actually codified in local law. All that has changed is that students are not getting a pass anymore and are finally being held accountable for breaking those laws. Heaven forbid we expect WashU students to act like adults? When exactly are you supposed to become responsible for your actions? So now it is an excuse to act like a wild animal because you don’t know any better? Your parents never taught you any manners? How are you ever going to function out in the real world in just a month if it is “highly unreasonable” for you to behave now?

    I appreciate your point of view as a student but Washu should have taught you how to analyze issues and engage in critcal thinking. Your article isn’t controversial, it is simply an immature perspective that spouts off one side of the story without considering anything else. I get wanting to “fight for your right to party” but you have to give me something more than “but we don’t know any better” as a justification. I firmly believe that this is fight you are going to lose because the law is against you and the residents, city, policy and your own University are supportive of the policy and believe it is the only way to curb bad behavior. If this article reflects the best arguments you have then your “cause” is going to go nowhere fast because it proves that without a Zero Tolerance Policy that we should expect the bad behavior to continue because it would be “highly unreasonable” not to.