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.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe