Neighbors/students debate captures crux of the college experience

| Staff Columnist

You will notice that on the south side of Kingsbury Avenue, there are speed bumps every 100 feet or so and signs that indicate that only residents may park on the street there.

It is perilous to step into an argument (recounted in “Student arrest spurs questions about zero tolerance policy,” [April 16]) that has caused both sides to seem, at times, quite silly. On the whole, University City residents have come out seeming dumber, because any support, explicit or implicit, of a zero-tolerance policy that immediately presumes guilt and then arrests the supposedly guilty parties is unjust, particularly when the offense is living in an apartment building where a party is occurring.

You will notice that on the north side of Kingsbury Avenue, the streets lack speed bumps and they lack signs that limit parking to residents.

Washington University students have seemed to take a more reasonable tone. (I refer largely to the comments in the above-mentioned article and “Students speak out against University City’s zero-tolerance policy at City Council meeting,” [April 14]) They recognize the right to protest certain disturbances, but they decry the authoritarian means used to quell such disturbances.

You will notice that in the Skinker/DeBaliviere area, at the corner of Waterman and Skinker, a set of church bells resounds every quarter hour in tones of up to 20 seconds in length.

I think the problematic crux of the argument, leaving aside the absurd extremes of arrests committed for ludicrously minor offenses and of students urinating and littering in residents’ yards, is the idea that students seem to have, and that residents seem to defy, the “right to party.” This crux is problematic because, as easy as it is to argue for the negative freedom from being arrested upon coming home from the laundromat, it is much harder—or, more accurately, it seems illegitimate in some way—to argue for the positive freedom to have fun by making a moderate to loud amount of noise and by enjoying the company of a whole lot of different people at once. One feels hesitant, however much one believes in it, to stand up in court and argue for the right to have a good time.

You will notice that at the corner of Rosedale and Waterman, another church rings throughout the neighborhood on the hour and the half hour; that at noon and six, its bells toll for an even longer time; and that on Sunday at 10:45 a.m., it plays a whole host of tunes unignorable to anyone within a half-mile distance.

For me, the problematic moral situation here—whether large quantities of “fun” ought to be shut down by the much slighter inconveniences they cause to others—pervades the college experience. I lived in an old dorm freshman year, and initially it was next to impossible to fall asleep until 4 or 5 a.m. on a weekend night if you, like me, had mononucleosis and needed to rest. But to my credit, I did not call the police on these nights. Instead, I dealt with it and by the end of the year had taught myself to sleep through anything.

You will notice that a college student doing his or her homework, trying to finish, say, “The Tale of Genji”, the oldest novel in the world, for Monday, will be able to make no progress whatsoever between 10:45 and 11:00 a.m. if he or she lives in the Residential Life apartments on Waterman.

But now, if I want to extend my practice to a prescription for University City residents, I will be told, “It is our right to be free from noise and disruption!” Well, sure. That’s why this article analyzes a problem instead of making a prescription; one can’t very well argue, morally speaking, that U. City neighbors ought to suck it up and allow us to violate laws even if it messes with what they think is their well-being.

But frankly, they should. It’s very easy to call the police about something you find annoying in your neighborhood, something that makes you feel just a little less comfortable. It’s very difficult—quite a bit more of an inconvenience—to be arrested, to go to court, to pay $250 for living in a apartment near a party or for—God forbid—hosting one.

For University City residents, calling the police may be an OK thing to do, a morally acceptable one, in some of these situations. But many students at the University, from time to time, operate according to the mandates of a different and far less easily argued-for rubric: what is cool, what is fun, what adds to the zeal of life.

And according to that rubric, the U. City residents at fault here are neither cool nor fun. They have no zeal for life. Instead, in the argot that might find its way into many of our mouths, they suck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/imosley Ian August Mosley

    Incidentally, why does Dennis Sweeney even write for Studlife? All his articles sound like some fratboy with glazed-over eyes mumbling into his red solo cup of Natty Light.

  • Student

    Dennis, your article was not only counterproductive to achieving equality under the law, it was insulting to both the residents of University City and the students who are working together to protest the zero-tolerance policy. Your article attempted to simplify the crux of the conflict into a party-vs-no party debate, and as someone who will be participating in negotiations with the city for the foreseeable future, your simplification was flat out wrong.

    What we are aiming for is equality under the law. We believe that if the zero tolerance policy is going to be in effect, it cannot be subject to profiling, and should apply to all residents of Ames Place as well.

    To the resident: We obviously understand your concerns, and as an educated, mature student body, we are all in agreement that loud and disruptive students should be punished both by law and by the university. What we are against is INNOCENT students being punished. We are against people going to jail for merely living in a building where others have decided to make noise. We are against people going to jail for merely walking past a house where there is noise. We are against police officers forcibly entering apartments without warrants.

    What the residents seem not to realize is the severity of an arrest. We are college students looking to get jobs at multinational corporations, federal and state governments, and other companies. Almost all employers conduct some form of background check, and these arrests show up and negatively impact our employers’ decision to hire us. With that in mind, this zero-tolerance party could result in one not getting a job merely for walking home to their apartment in Ames Place past midnight. Although we understand that the noise has gotten out of control and drastic steps need to be taken, simply arresting everyone in sight and creating a culture of fear is *in my opinion* not the correct way to do it.

    I am not positing another method to control the noise. That is why we will be meeting with the city council in the near future. The students and the residents need to reach some compromise where noise is kept under control and the students dont risk their livelihoods and live in a constant state of fear.

  • Student7

    Really Resident? Your argument equates to the US not allowing any people of Arab decent on planes because several of them turned out to be terrorists. So logically all Arabs are evil. Or perhaps just like Arabs not all students are the same. Maybe just maybe we all shouldn’t be treated as if we pooped on your neighbors lawn. Perhaps you should call the cops when you see that happening and punish the one responsible. Not the kids a year latter who are having 15 friends over for a BBQ on a Saturday afternoon.

    Should we all be judged by the deeds of some. Would you like to be? And on a final note I love how you tell Dennis he “sucks”. Adding quotes like now its not you saying it. Get off your high horse.

  • http://www.studlife.com Dennis Sweeney

    Hi Resident,

    I appreciate your attention to my article. I think I shouldn’t have ended it the way I did.

    Here’s what I meant to convey. There are two different logics up against one another in the whole debate: one that values the law and peace and quiet, and one that values this sort of feverish, often blind zeal for life. Because each puts value on different things, there’s no point of contact between those who hold the separate logics, and that’s why it has all gotten so fierce.

    Sorry to seem like a warmonger. It’s just hard when groups who have two entirely different things at stake come to an argument. For me, it’s the same reason that staunch liberals and staunch conservatives can’t talk in any kind of reasonable way. The fundamental, underlying values of each group are different, such that a conversation can’t even be had. There’s no common ground, unfortunately, on which to meet.

  • J

    I think it is important to note here that students are open-minded to finding a resolution to this conflict that finds a middle ground between the desires of Washington University students and other U City residents.

    One of the most frustrating aspects of how the situation has played out, however, is the intimidation tactics that UCPD has adopted in enforcing its “zero-tolerance” policy. UCity police officers have made mention of the fact that they are instructed to enforce noise violations differently if the accused party is an undergraduate at the University.

    As a result of this, UCity residents have been able to abuse the Department’s policy such that if they encounter even a minute noise problem, they can call the police and in accordance with the policy have the responsible students arrested, regardless of the complaint’s legitimacy.

    Whenever there exists an area as densely populated as University City, residents will have a number of neighbors. It is not a realistic or fair expectation for any residential neighborhood that your neighbors will remain inaudible around the clock.

    And therein lies the problem. The UCPD has essentially taken the stance that undergraduate residents of UCity should be arrested if the whim of just one UCity resident is that they are bothered by the noise – even if the students are gathering during reasonable hours of the day at reasonable volumes.

    This policy – as Washington University students can best interpret it – has stripped undergraduate students of their right to be treated as equals to other rent-paying residents of University City and has granted UCity residents the power to summon the police to break up even an innocent afternoon game of whiffleball.

  • Resident

    Really.Dennis? For such an intelligent sounding young man you really do “suck”.
    I am one of those police calling neighbors- and frankly I have “sucked it up” for years as students wander by my house talking loudly at 2 am. The “funny” part of having you wake up my little girls while screaming Fu…you to your friends at the top of your lungs has somehow evaded me at this point. When one of you highly educated well respected members of my community took a crap in my neighbors front yard- I somehow lost my tolerance for your “right to party”. When you stole my kids Easter decorations I decided that perhaps you were not mature enough to make your own decisions on when or how much partying was acceptable. Finally when my husband went out at 3 and asked you to please turn the music down on a Wed night because he had to go to work the next morning- and you cursed at him and refused I started calling the cops. Now you say “it’s not Fair!”. Yep growing up “sucks”.