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Community building, common council-style

Darryl Campbell | Monday, October 13, 2008

Last Friday (Oct. 10), The Observer ran an article entitled “University addresses community relations,” from which you could easily have drawn the conclusion that all Notre Dame students – not just off-campus ones – are irresponsible, lawless hooligans. Students’ self-control, according to some residents, Common Council members and even the chief of police, is inversely proportional to the performance of the football team. Judging from statements like “there’s no mention of the contributing factor of alcohol – and how that contributes to danger” or “you cannot walk down the street at 2:30 in the morning, sloppy drunk, singing and expect to be safe,” the article may as well have reported that, according to those interviewed, the real public safety problem is people who are drunk. If they happen to get robbed or assaulted, well, they were being irresponsible in the first place; they basically deserved it. The chief of police even stated that “we will not turn our backs on the citizens that live here [year-round]” – which, I guess, suggests that policing the entire city necessitates a choice between ignoring either Notre Dame students or permanent residents. Between these kinds of attitudes and the dredging up of a few high-profile incidents, it seems that South Bend’s community leaders are in high dudgeon about student behavior, so much so that they are expressing the sort of sentiments that probably wouldn’t fly if they were targeting anyone other than college students.

Obviously, any town that boasts a university will have problems with its students; town-gown relations, especially concerning students’ extracurricular activities, have been a problem for as long as there have been universities. And certainly Notre Dame students bear responsibility for following local noise ordinances and other laws, as well as representing Notre Dame to the community as a whole.

But there is also no excuse for the sort of rhetorical bluster that unfairly singles out Notre Dame students as irrational, antisocial and a major threat to public order and safety on par with those who are actually committing crimes. Yes, there are a few parties hosted and attended by Domers that result in noise violations and underage drinking (which, on the whole, have been fewer this year than in previous years). But I’m willing to bet that the majority of the crimes appearing on the September Safety Stats have little, if anything, to do with Notre Dame partygoers, unless they happened to have been victims rather than perpetrators. And the city of South Bend – which already boasts a crime rate about twice as high as the national average for almost all violent and property crimes except aggravated assault – will be facing massive budget cuts that will probably reduce the uniformed police force by 15 percent over the next two years. Clearly there are larger and more endemic problems than student parties.

Fortunately, neither residents nor students believe that the students of Notre Dame are second-class residents who are only here to be part of an intellectual enclave and otherwise have absolutely no interest in civic affairs or even being neighborly. After all, in the same paper, an article appeared about another student party that got out of hand, after which the students genuinely attempted to make up for an evening of bad judgment; their neighbors were content not to throw them under the bus for a single incident. They, like most off-campus Domers, are trying to live with, rather than provoke, their neighbors. So it would seem that official representatives of South Bend are largely blowing the actions of a few students out of proportion in order to attribute unfounded stereotypes of college undergraduates on all the student body, by way of lecturing them about their civic responsibilities. And this strikes me as completely absurd, if not self-defeating. Wouldn’t it be better to constructively include the student body of Notre Dame in the city’s attempt to promote public safety and community-building rather than antagonize it?

Darryl Campbell is a second-year Ph.D. student in history, and wishes his students good luck on their midterm today. He can be reached at dcampbe6@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.