Narragansett is burning. Well, not really, but you might get that feeling, as I have, if you’ve paid much attention to my coverage of it since September.
May 3 will be the one year anniversary of the “riot” that sparked it all and we’re fast approaching the time of year that brings students out into the sun to “celebrate” the end of the year. Similarly, many local property owners are looking forward to the departure of some student trouble-makers, a little peace and quiet – and of course hundreds of thousands of tourists.
Last year’s event moved a conflict that has always been a subversive theme, more into the forefront of the community’s agenda than I have ever seen it in my time at the University of Rhode Island. It has driven a series of wedges into an already small community and created factions – students, full-time residents, the university and landlords – who seem, to use the same term as a resident on Narragansett’s Ad-Hoc Committee, to be “at war” with each other.
The biggest result of the debate over how to solve this problem has been frustration. Frustration from residents, who justifiably don’t appreciate riots in their town and, like most human beings, would appreciate a higher quality of life. Frustration by students, the majority of whom are upstanding community members who justifiably feel as if they’ve been targeted by ordinances, oppressed by the police and misunderstood by the town’s government. Frustration by just about everyone with the university itself, sheltered in their ivory towers miles away South Kingstown.
As a result, divisions have gotten wider, arguments have gotten louder and more than once and by more than one group, the “it’s our town, all or nothing” idea has been blown through the air.
But Narragansett is a shared community. For nine months out of the year, it is shared by residents and students. For the other three months, tourists. The number of people that get to enjoy Narragansett and even call it home goes far beyond the year round residents. That’s the nature of the town. It’s nothing new and it’s nothing that’s going to change. Residents need to recognize that students are members of that community and likewise, students have to remember that they’re not the only ones here. Neither group is just going to pack up and move away.
Events like what we saw in Eastward Look last spring are entirely counterproductive to students’ rights in town, and fairly so. Personally, it’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I never chose URI and that I never had to be associated with it. It’s a dangerous, expensive, deplorable stain not just on the town, not just on the university, but on all of us. I’m dreading the day I walk into a job interview and am asked, “I see you graduated from URI, isn’t that the school with the riot that made national news?”
Residents – and students – have every right to be upset when things like that happen. No civilized society would ever condone it and it’s entirely understandable that residents would impose rules to stop it. Students should expect to be treated as second class citizens when we act like it. So maybe we would be better served, rather than fighting the laws, making sure the issues that spark the laws don’t happen ever again.
Although that’s not to say there isn’t room for debate. But in this case, the debate has largely been missing a side. Residents want what they want and the university and the landlords have been there to help communicate the other side, but their motivations are far different from students’. Students do have informed, intelligent opinions on these issues. On October 2, Edwards Hall was filled with students voicing their concerns to Narragansett lawmakers, police officials and URI administrators. But despite constant invitation, that has largely been the end for students. Back to our apartments we go to quietly grumble to each other when a party gets shut down.
If the student body wants any right to either grumble or cheer the results of this debate, they need to join it.
And the debate needs to change. It needs to be done respectfully and with acknowledgement of each other as valid pieces of the community of Narragansett. It needs to be done by looking at each other as parts of a single town, rather than a war between residents, students, landlords and URI.
Yes, residents need to see students as community members, but if that’s how students want to be treated, we need to act like community members and make sure no one can treat us differently because of an event like last May’s ever again.