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.

Is forming a commission of students and residents a good idea?

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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.

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