It would be too easy to chalk up the events of March 21 to a lack of safety, policing or communication from Temple’s administration. While it is encouraging to see collective passion surging throughout Temple’s student body in the aftermath of the brick assault, the direction that passion has taken is not only misguided, but also potentially detrimental to our community as a whole.
That weekend, police say a group of several girls targeted four Temple students in a series of unsolicited physical attacks, one of which involved a brick as a weapon. Since then, five teenage girls have been arrested, and three are set to be tried as adults. Heated debates have sprung up questioning the overall safety of Main Campus.
Temple students’ pessimistic-at-best attitude toward North Philadelphia is hardly news. Have you ever walked by Hair, Fashion and Beyond on Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue and commented, “That’s so ghetto”? Ever see caution tape around a crime scene that didn’t involve you, turn to your friend and say, “That’s so North Philly”? Ever seen a group of people that looks different from you on your very block, but refer to them as “locals,” as if they were an exotic body that hasn’t been sharing your neighborhood this whole time?
On March 24, @lawrence_jh, a parody Twitter account for an employee of Johnson and Hardwick Cafeteria that has more than 600 followers — an issue I won’t even get into — bluntly tweeted, “Locals vs. Students.”
Somehow, trivializing poverty and crime becomes a lot less funny when a Temple student is the victim. And when a Temple student gets hit with a brick, news outlets take notice. What’s brushed under the rug is the safety of the community at large.
A group of underaged girls targeting and harassing people is scary and concerning no matter what. The fact that we, as students, are containing our desire for safety to the bubble of Main Campus – save for a petition for Temple police to extend their jurisdiction to more Temple students – only contributes to the troubles of an already troubled place in the world.
The wedge between Temple and the non-students who live in the area exists and has existed for reasons that are largely out of our control as students. It’s not a secret that Temple’s growing campus and housing projects are pushing residents farther north and farther west.
In general, city schools have large income gaps. In Philadelphia, 26.2 percent of residents sit below the poverty line. Around Main Campus, that number gets as high as 63 percent. Students with at least enough money to fund their college tuition move in with their iPads and Ugg boots, and there are already some unspoken boundaries.
The economic divide between students and longtime North Philly residents becomes our responsibility when we reinforce it. By attaching a negative connotation to poverty, to the point that we actually have a condescending name – “locals” – for a group of people that is different than us, Temple students become somewhat accountable for this tension that has just escalated into full-on hostility.
It becomes our responsibility to instill a sense of community when Temple rescinds all notions of being “good neighbors” by sending out emails that explicitly state, “Do not engage in conversations with strangers,” as Vice President for Construction, Facilities and Operations James Creedon sent out on March 24.
In addition, students tend to treat the surrounding area with total disregard, rationalizing their actions with the mindset that North Philly won’t be their home for long. Unfortunately, not everyone who lives here has the privilege or the opportunity to move out to a “nicer” area at their convenience, and are now forced to live alongside students who do not respect their neighborhood as an actual place.
Demonizing an entire group of people based on the perpetrators of an isolated incident has never been a productive way to cope in the aftermath of a crime—especially because the perpetrators in question are believed to be from West and Northeast Philadelphia. Instead of creating enemies out of our neighbors, perhaps we could focus on living with them.
Scare tactics, boundaries and increased police action will not keep us safer. A city and a university that understand how poverty works will.
Disobey Creedon’s email and say hi to your neighbors. Clean up broken bottles after your parties. And when you sign and share petitions online, try keeping North Philadelphia in mind—it’s yours, too.
Grace Holleran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coupsdegrace.