What is the real problem?

A typical side street in Fitchburg

By Carmen Bordonaro

Just as any other student who has attended Fitchburg State University, during my time here I have received countless emails stating how unruly students are who live off campus. Now, I would like to make this disclaimer clear and state that I fully understand that necessity of ensuring the safety of students and how tough of a job it is for Law Enforcement personnel to do what they do. This is why I would like to take this moment and thank all those who have sworn to protect and serve the members of this community. Now switching gears to the real purpose of this article, I would like to share with you what I feel is the real problem with the neighborhoods surrounding Fitchburg State University.

I read an email that was recently sent out stating how bad the behavior has been of students living off campus in the surrounding neighborhoods and the level of dissatisfaction that residents living within the community feel towards these “student” houses. This really stuck in the back of my mind as I pondered on the content of the email, becoming more insulted every time I thought about it. I just feel that the right measures or the full scope of the situation is never analyzed. Trust me, I do understand that sometimes it is necessary for the school to take quick and decisive action when things get out of control, but I do also feel that more often than not all these problems could be easily averted, or better understood.

One thing that really bothers me is just the fact that it seems the University trusts the opinions of those residents living within the neighborhoods full time over that of the students. Constantly reading emails that state the community is dissatisfied with the appearance and conduct of students living in off campus houses is getting very old. Having taken applied statistics, I wonder what this reference to “the community” actually means. Does this term refer to one resident calling and making a complaint about one single house, which is surely enough reason to stigmatize all the students with the label as “arrogant and unruly”? Or is this referring to the residents that rummage through my backyard every day, or the ones who are ignorantly drunk at 7 pm banging on my front door asking directions to the street they are already on? If we as students sent a report to the school or the police department every time we saw something illegal or “unruly” take place within our neighborhood, we would have no time to live because it is happening on such a consistent basis.  I am not stating that every resident who lives in the Fitchburg community is a drug addict or criminal, but just as students are all stigmatized as “unruly” it should not be any different for the residents as well.

I just feel that so many situations could be avoided if problems were handled in a more community oriented way. Maybe if students saw a more proactive effort to try and contain the street walkers, drug dealers, and illegal dog breeders, we would think a lot better of these streets and learn to respect them more. But because of the fact that we see “residents” breeding 20 dogs in conditions that are nowhere close to legal, or have other “residents” who roam the streets singing at 2 in the morning using an empty 40 ounce as a drum not being punished for their actions, makes us as students feel that getting in trouble for certain actions is very unfair. Now I am not getting into an argument about whether or not students should get in trouble for throwing parties or being intoxicated, I know that we as students are held to a higher standard, as we should be. But with that being said, just because we are held at a higher standard, those around us should not be held at a lower standard. The only way to truly get this community moving in the right direction is to make some drastic changes in how this society interacts with one another. First and foremost, we as the students should realize that if we want to see action being taken against those who are committing crimes, we must report it in order for officers to successfully deal with the problem. It is impossible with the budget problems FPD is facing to have an officer on every corner constantly scanning to find something illegal. But with the increased presence of police on college party nights including Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on a consistent basis, it makes it very simple for offenders to know when to commit crimes and when not to. Also if the city forced landlords to start taking better care of their housing units, rather than just acting like slumlords, the streets themselves would look much more appealing, demanding the respect of both residents and students.

But as a community, and this time when I say community I mean everyone including students, full time residents, school officials, and law enforcement personnel, we consistently turn our backs on the idea of change. Every time we walk outside and let a piece of trash stay littered on the street, or we see a fight taking place and don’t do anything to stop it, we let the streets sink a little deeper into that stigmatized mentality. So once again I ask myself, who should we actually blame for the low standard of living amongst the streets of Fitchburg? Is it the students? Is it the residents? Is it the police officers? Or is it school officials? At the end of the day I feel the fault lies on every single one of us, and until change happens, there will always be problems between local residents and the students who fill these houses up on a yearly basis.