Opinion | Column

Welcome to the Durham Petting Zoo

This past Friday, we received an e-mail from Student Affairs advising students that their affairs were not good-it seemed there might be a drive by shooting off of East Campus.

Sunday, a fellow student on Watts Street had a gun thrust in his face and his money stolen.

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Monday, one of our peers almost got his head bashed in for getting hamburgers too close to NCCU.

Durham boasts not only the finest school in North Carolina, but also the highest murder rate. Given Durham's relatively small size, it certainly makes for an interesting combination.

It's often lamented that Duke students don't interact enough with the Durham community and that the Durham community does not think well enough of Duke students. This situation is often described as poor town-gown relations.

As a member of the gown, the first question I'd ask is why they are not called town-school relations.

The second question I'd ask is what people hope to gain from Duke students spending less time on campus and more time in Durham. I have nothing against the town, but I wouldn't exactly describe it as a rich treasure-trove of life and culture waiting to be discovered by the eager student. I would more accurately describe it as one of the last spots in America anyone would visit were it not for the presence of Duke University.

In other words, we are Durham's main attraction. Every time we set foot off-campus, we're actually leaving the best thing the city has to offer-and in turn, entering some of the most violent neighborhoods in the state.

Coming from a violent city myself (Los Angeles), I personally don't feel unsafe when going off-campus. Mostly, I just feel bored. But unlike the other violent cities that have excellent universities-D.C., New York, LA, Boston-Durham is not a hub of civilization overflowing with people, commerce and activity. It's not even a hubcap.

Duke is, in fact, the only thing that keeps this city alive. As the number-one employer in Durham and the city's only major draw, if we were to pull out, instead of worrying about town-gown relations, the city would have to be worry about becoming a ghost-town. Which it quickly would.

Each of us putting money into this University can take pride in knowing we are helping to fund not just Duke but Durham itself-supporting its economy, hiring its workers, providing discounted medical care, free tutoring and childcare, not to mention the wealth of programming Duke offers and makes open to the entire community.

Duke is Durham's lifeblood, plain and simple.

So if we want to stay on campus or to limit our interaction with Durham to Cosmic Cantina or perhaps just the delivery drivers, then we have nothing to apologize for. If anything, the insistence on interacting with Durham locals is condescending to the town residents. Durham isn't a petting zoo. The residents won't get lonely or irritable if we don't play with them.

A good case in point would be when I was a freshman and I was told to make a birthday card for one of the janitors that serviced my dorm. As I enjoy talking with people, I had struck up a few conversations with this janitor, but I knew she would not have expected a birthday card from me anymore than I would from her. Yet we were all supposed to send our birthday wishes to the janitor as though she had no friends or life of her own.

This insulting act of condescension was driven by guilt and the idea that we are in the janitors' debt. In reality, it's an issue of mutual benefit. The janitors need a job, which we provide, and we need someone to professionally clean the common areas of our dormitories, which they provide. Accordingly, we are thankful for each other, and no one owes anyone anything other than kindness and respect.

The newest strain on town-gown relations comes from the lacrosse situation. People have tried to use the alleged acts to paint our student body and our administration as racist. One Durham resident even claimed Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta was racist for warning us about the potential for a drive-by shooting (I kid you not). This slander is as reprehensible as it is baseless. Duke has about as many racists as Durham has museums.

I think it's about time the town started reaching out to the gown.

Stephen Miller is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Wednesday.


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