It’s the foreboding warning incoming Temple University students hear: “Don’t go past Diamond Street.”
After four semesters at Temple, I hear — and loathe — that sentiment hurled at nervous freshmen. Whether it be from family, friends, classmates or just word of mouth, our fear of North Philadelphia is ingrained and unwarranted.
Most of all, it’s dangerous to our university’s reputation and to our neighbors living in this community.
This summer, I saw an upsetting Facebook post where a student warned the class of 2023 to avoid off-campus areas north of Diamond Street, neighborhoods with “majority local residents,” or what he called “the hood.”
It was a message I’ve heard and largely ignored nearly every other time, but the way that this post directly targeted incoming students and inculcated them with a deeply detrimental perspective of our community was just too much for me to brush off this time.
If the class of 2023 follows this advice, all we’ll do is reinforce a divide within our community that our student body has created over time.
“It’s damaging to our department, it’s damaging to the Temple image and it’s damaging to students,” said Donna Gray, manager of risk reduction and advocacy services at the Office of Campus Safety Services.
Main Campus is a part of the North Philadelphia community. Every day, we interact with residents — individuals who have spent their entire lives here, — at Fresh Grocer, at Rite Aid and all around campus.
And yet, the people who welcome us into their community and who we see everyday, are the same ones we claim are the reason why we stay south of Diamond Street. Why is that?
“We’re perpetuating this stereotype that North Philadelphia is crime-ridden because we’re surrounded by Black and brown faces,” said Matthew Ellis Simmons, a professor of Africology and African American studies.
“I’m not saying that there’s not crime. Crime is everywhere,” Simmons added. “But this stigma that North Philadelphia has is based on how we look at the bodies of Black and brown people surrounding us.”
Our fear of North Philadelphia is one that’s fundamentally racialized from centuries of discrimination.
So when you take a majority-white student body and place their campus in a historically Black neighborhood, our prejudices and ingrained racism are on full display, especially when we talk so injuriously about our community.
It’s a narrative that we have to stop reinforcing, and it’s one we can work to end if we try.
It’s about education, awareness and communication with our neighbors, said Charles Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services.
“Go walk around, meet your neighbors, get some history, see what’s going on,” Leone added. “Your neighbors here? They all want the same things that we want: they want it safe, they want it clean, they want it well-lit and they want to work together if there’s an issue. There’s no difference: it’s what you’d do in any other neighborhood.”
When you disregard the misguided advice and imaginary boundaries, you’ll find that North Philadelphia is a beautiful community with great places to visit, like the Free Library of Nicetown-Tioga, the Philadelphia Doll Museum and the Church of the Advocate.
“If you never go over this ‘line of demarcation,’ you’ll never know what’s over there,” Gray added.
But when you dismiss North Philadelphia as inherently crime-ridden and unsafe, and then push those faulty judgments onto new students, it only distances us further and further from this incredible neighborhood.
Temple is not separate from North Philadelphia, and we need to stop setting up arbitrary boundaries as if it is.
We are members of the North Philadelphia community until the day we graduate, and regardless of where they live, it’s time to start treating our neighbors with the respect that they deserve.