Monday October 3, 2016

Incognito: Nighttime in the Student Neighborhood

By Eric Spina

What is the student neighborhood like on a Friday night?

It is important for me to understand all aspects of the student experience at UD, so earlier this month it was time to see for myself. While it was hardly 21 Jump Street — I wore jeans, a Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt and a University of Dayton baseball cap — I felt like a college student again as I climbed into public safety officer Michael Sipes' unmarked car for a 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. patrol.

What I discovered was unlike any of the tales I had created in my mind, and ultimately makes me proud of our students, while also anxious for their safety — just like any parent feels about their children.

Chris Schramm, associate vice president for student development and dean of students, and Tom Weckesser '90 '95, executive director of the president's office, traveled with us up and down the busy streets, from north to south and around the campus. We saw students being with each other, relaxing on porches together or standing in yard parties, talking and laughing with friends. A real sense of community was pervasive.

I am sad to report that we did see a few behaviors by students that were destructive to their own dignity and health and, thus, to the fabric of the community, but that was not all I saw.

When officers approached a house party that spilled onto the sidewalk and street, the residents politely complied with their requests to disperse. Officers were quick to stop and cite students carrying open containers or who appeared to be underage, and the response to public safety was respectful. I felt a swell of Flyer pride seeing students respond quickly to a fellow student in distress. They stepped up with great care and called our student-run EMS squad, who transported a first-year student to the hospital. Other students voluntarily called campus safety asking for help in getting their own party under tighter control.

As a campus community, we want students who choose to drink to do so safely and responsibly. Underage drinking, high-risk drinking and public intoxication are not behaviors we condone, and we do take disciplinary action. As someone who has spent my entire career on college campuses, I am not naïve about the risks and understand how peer and social pressure can lead students into making poor choices. During my Friday night patrol, however, I saw the challenges that face our students and staff, but I also saw truly responsible behavior.

We are known for our tight-knit community, our front-porch hospitality. A number of our Marianist religious live in the neighborhoods, and their presence is deeply meaningful to our University, as is the engagement of Marianist student communities. I witnessed our public safety officers and neighborhood fellows (students who live in the neighborhood and foster community development among their peers) walking the streets in the wee hours of the morning, assuring safety in these neighborhoods that students and alumni cherish.

Granted, this is just one snapshot on one given night, as Dean Schramm and Lieutenant Sipes reminded me, but the officers and staff in Student Development tell me that students routinely look out for each other, and the vast majority treat officers with respect.

When my "shift" ended at 2 a.m., I drove home comforted that a team of caring, skilled people — from public safety officers to neighborhood fellows  —  are helping students learn one of life’s most important lessons and a critical element of forming community: the importance of treating yourself and others with respect.

This is what our “commitment to community” philosophy is all about, and I urge all of our students to truly live by this essential — and Marianist-inspired — credo. 

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