Off-campus controversy shows dialogue is needed

| Forum Editor

Leave it to public urination and a disbanded game of Wiffle ball to bring Wash. U. students and University City residents to loggerheads. University City’s “zero-tolerance policy” has become the flavor of the month in this area of St. Louis, and our ordinarily easy-going campus is abuzz with accusations of profiling and police abuses.

What strikes me about this latest quarrel is the lack of effective communication from all sides. Wash. U. administrators have limited comments to one e-mail from Dean Justin Carroll; the University City Police Department has yet to divulge the specifics of its so-called policy. Sure, University City residents have complained about excessive noise and litter due to student parties and gatherings. Off-campus undergraduates have fired back with testimony at the latest city council meeting and occasional attempts to show their good-neighbor sides. But I would argue that these efforts have been more about defending each side’s stake than identifying the major problems and designing sufficient solutions.

Certainly defending yourself—whether as a student trying to enjoy college and adulthood among friends, or as a resident trying to enjoy a peaceful and clean neighborhood—is an important step, but consensus and compromise are needed for this quarrel to be resolved. Consensus and compromise come from hearing each argument and reaching a collective decision. Arguably the major difficulty in University City has been excessive noise, a painfully subjective form of misconduct. What is excessive to me may be acceptable to you. Clearly-articulated guidelines (perhaps in some sort of contract) are needed.

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At last Monday’s city council meeting, Andrew Weisberg and Wyatt Crane called for a city-appointed committee of students and permanent residents. This is a good idea that University City should implement, because it will serve as a venue for the effective dialogue that is so desperately needed. If residents and students don’t commit to a clear plan for what is and isn’t acceptable, I worry that this controversy will deteriorate into spats over lawnmowers and loud whistling. It would be childish for each party to shut its mouth and fume over what isn’t going right, when a far better option would be to sit down and work together to make things right. Justified or not, whining never solves as much as communication.

I don’t pretend to understand everything about the controversy, nor do I (or any one person) have all the solutions. But clearly, off-campus students will need to make lifestyle sacrifices. I’ve made the error of distinguishing students from residents in this column, when in fact students in the area are just as much residents of University City as anyone else. That means that they must be law-abiding citizens who conform to community expectations; that also means, though, that they must have a place at the policy table.

There are of course problems in addition to excessive noise, such as littering and public intoxication. Student and resident input will be crucial if good times are to be had while following the law. As adults, everyone deserves the chance to move past “us vs. them” and engage in meaningful dialogue in order to establish the foundations for positive change.

  • Senior

    I find it offensive that this policy comes as students are the victims of increasing violence in University City. Violent crime should the number one priority.

    Furthermore, if this is a policy by which students are expected to abide, then they should have access to all documents related to the policy, not just summaries of it. It also seems that this “policy” only exists as such because any attempt to change the laws would meet with voter resistance and would, ultimately, be found unconstitutional.

    Finally, this University City – the municipality’s name reflects its reliance upon students for its livelihood. How would the City fare if students boycotted all UCity businesses? If the University withdrew its support?

  • Be Reasonable, Folks

    Thank You Cyrus for finally writing a sensible article about this issue. The debate of what to do with off campus students has just devolved into a shouting match where neither side is really listening to the complaints of the other side. Only since these seniors Wyatt Crane and Andrew Weisberg attempted to open a dialogue between these interest groups did the paradigm shift from shouting to beginning to discuss a better and fairer response to the partying issue.

    But residents who still make the loudest fuss about the issue still seem to not realize the stance the majority of students are taking. If there is a loud disturbance, call the cops, have them appear at the doorstep and issue a warning, or a citation. Every off campus party I have been to that had a police offer did this either disbanded, or quieted down the ruckus. This is not an unreasonable response to parties and accomplishes the goals of the residents of the area. There is no reason to initiate arrests and treat police offers like process servers. There should be clear and rational discretion when these interactions between police and students take place, but I fear that this is again, another hidden aspect to the problems students are raising again.

    Before the Zero-Tolerance Policy was enacted, some officers were still overstepping boundaries involved with breaking up parties and harassing students. Last semester there were issues where cops would come into apartments uninvited and even barge into apartments when there was not even a party going on. Discretion is just that, a proportional and reasonable response to the event unfolding. Rushing into an apartment thinking that there is a party inside and finding 4 students watching a movie is just an egregious error of discretion. And moreover, its seems the zero tolerance policy just incentivizes this behavior.

    Students just want to be treated like adults and be engaged in the conversation over how to deal with the noise problem. Additionally, they want to be treated the same as the residents of the area in terms of discretion used by the police. Right now, the Zero-Tolerance policy was enacted without any dialogue to the people that this policy directly affects in intent, and certainly seems to overstep the policy’s own reasons for being enacted. Let students have barbecues, walk home from the loop and be private in their own apartment. Stop the parties, but don’t arrest someone for this. As long as the police are not called, and when they are reasonable discretion is used, students will respond. But until this happens, the policy is just downright irresponsible and fueling the shouting match.

    There are multiple ways to ameliorate the situation, and I would love to go into them, but I am already rambling. If someone would like to know my position on solving the problem, just respond to my comment.

    Again, I applaud Cyrus for finally having reasonable insight in his editorial.

  • Student7

    I feel like no one makes note that students probably make up a larger number of residents in the area between Wash U and the loop then single families do. Why is the minority setting the guidelines of proper behavior. Let the masses decide whats fair. Not a select few who complain until their voice is heard above all others.