Going to a neighborhood community meeting can be a very frightful task for a St. Thomas student, especially when you are a representative of the St. Thomas students so often discussed at these meetings.
When I received my first invitation to attend a neighborhood community meeting and speak about our Undergraduate Student Government work to build relations with the community, I was hesitant. I had visions of neighbors laying their built-up frustrations and anger on me. I could just hear the complaints about loud parties, beer cans on the front lawn and cars parked in the front yard.
Despite this, I went to the meeting. When I sat down at the table and looked around the room, I saw a gathering of neighbors eager to hear what I had to say. They so badly wanted to meet a student who would listen to them and bring their concerns back to St. Thomas. After I was done speaking and listening to what they had to say, I could tell they felt a pressure lifted off their chest.
Going into the meeting, I knew I had much to be proud of as a St. Thomas student. Over the past two years, USG has made an unprecedented commitment in building good relations with our neighbors. This stems from two consecutive years of voting to make neighborhood relations one of our top priorities. USG representatives have attended community meetings and dinners, held meet-and-greets with neighbors and worked with other campus departments on events and initiatives in the neighborhood. We even started a community newsletter. This work really showed through at the community meeting.
Frustrations on both sides still linger, however. The recent proposed ordinance to restrict the amount of student rental housing near campus is a clear sign there continue to be tensions in our relationships with neighbors. Even though the ordinance represents bad public policy in the way that it singles out St. Thomas among other universities, we must move forward in a positive way.
The reality is that neighbors and students are not as polarized as we might think. I especially learned this after attending the community meeting. The vast majority on both sides seek a positive relationship – one that fosters a healthy and vibrant community and supports productive dialogue.
I ask that every student take ownership of this USG initiative and realize we all share in making this neighborhood a great place to live. We must seek to be good stewards in ways that I need not list. At the same time, we ask for patience from our neighbors and that there not be a rush to judgment of all students because of the actions of a few. Students always mean well. They care about where they live, and they know our neighborhood requires us all to be keepers.
Let’s all move forward together, not back.
Orth is president of the Undergraduate Student Government at St. Thomas.