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Tension is high in the Heights

November 17th, 2011

Last weekend, the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., presided over the 10 p.m. mass in St. Francis Chapel. The mass seemed normal enough … until the homily. Niehoff took this opportunity to openly chastise the JCU students who have embarrassed the University in the past several weeks.

Although I’m not sure a homily was the best forum for this discussion, I am glad it was addressed at such a high level (our school’s president).

Over the past several years, with a huge effort from University Heights Mayor Infeld and our Student Union, the relationship between the City and the University has taken huge steps forward.

This is great considering that prior to Mayor Infeld’s term in office, the City and the University were virtually divorced from each other. With a city as small as University Heights, this kind of cold-shouldered tension was simply impractical for both parties.

Even now, though, the question remains – are we a university town or a university in a town? I think a fair case can be made for either one. Our presence in University Heights drives commerce very high. JCU also owns many off-campus properties, and the juniors and seniors who live off campus are paying taxes to the city. Furthermore, JCU animates University Heights. Many local residents feel it’s exciting to see an energetic, buzzing college campus in their own backyard.

However, when this excitement escalates to a belligerent level, then we are not only making a bad name for our university, but for everyone who is associated with it, from students to faculty to administrators. This isn’t fair to anyone.

Just last week, the nation watched in horror as Penn State students rioted and took over their own town in a shameful display of disrespect. And that’s really what it comes down to – respect (or lack thereof).

As Niehoff pointed out, the biggest problem here is the absence of respect. It has been at the cornerstone of every major issue for as long as he remembers, ranging from problems of diversity and inclusion to the most recent problems with University Heights, and everything in between.

The idea of respect deserves its own column, so keep your eyes open. That one is coming soon. But for now, I’d like to give some more attention to the current issue with University Heights.

Above all, it is important to realize that in any situation like this, it is a small portion of the student body that is creating the problem. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the public, they represent the whole student population here at JCU. This definitely contributes to the high tension between the City and the University.

As a whole, I believe John Carroll students are some of the most respectful college students anywhere. We are a social justice university – we actively promote doing good service in the community and in the world. After all, we proudly say that we are “people for others.” But how can we say that we act in the interest of others globally if we are incapable of demonstrating this in our own backyard?

Just days before these embarrassing events took place, many students went around University Heights and helped rake leaves for the residents. This is a more accurate portrait of who we are. This is what people should think of when they hear the name John Carroll University. Unfortunately, I fear that it is not.

Yes, we are a fun university. I am in my third year at JCU, and I have personally witnessed what is now considered “intolerable” for students (underage drinking, partying, etc). When these actions stand alone, they are not harmful. Even under the age of 21, if students are responsible, I think that they can be trusted (and dare I say expected) to go to parties where alcohol is being consumed.

This is just a part of college life. And for the most part, I have found the neighbors to be generally tolerant when it comes to a casual Saturday night party. However, when these events get out of hand, when the noise is disrespectfully loud or students are violating the residents’ trust, that is where the line must be drawn.

Regardless of whether we are a university town or a university in a town, we must have respect for the neighborhood. Every single one of us has the responsibility to uphold the values of respect that this university stands for. Our relationship with the City can improve, but it needs to be an effort from us as a student body too. Before we boast being “the Jesuit university in Cleveland,” let’s try being the Jesuit university in University Heights.