RAYMOND-GARCIA: U. takes more than it gives to surrounding New Brunswick
Opinions Column: A Ray of Esperanza
Over the past three years that I have been a student at Rutgers, I have witnessed how little effort is put into trying to engage the New Brunswick community in conversations that ultimately affect them. To add insult to injury, there have been very few to no conversations about how the Rutgers community can contribute to the improvement, rather than regression, of the New Brunswick residents' lives. There are issues that the city’s members have been facing for years that have had very little support from the University. What kind of revolutionary university does not take part in the conversations happening at the larger city-wide level?
Rutgers is a top-ranking research institution that is recognized world-wide for the education it provides to its students. There is understandably a large amount of pressure for the University to hold itself up to this perception, but it should not do so at the expense of the people living in or surrounding the community.
A town hall the night of Sept. 27 hosted by the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) and the Rutgers University National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (RU—NAACP) chapter is a prime example of the former dilemma. The town hall was originally meant to be a discussion between students and staff on the topics threaded in and around police brutality. As this has been a national discussion for a few years, Rutgers seems to be actively trying to make as many people as possible feel safe while on campus. However, their attempts fall short since they failed to include a few key components.
This event was not open to the greater New Brunswick community prior to a current student, Nick Cruz, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, pointing out that this issue affects more than just the students and staff at the University. He made the point that there are residents of the city who have been directly affected by this issue since most of the city’s population identifies as people of color, and whose bodies have historically been policed differently and more violently. The way this ties in with the University is that there are certainly New Brunswick community members who have to traverse in or around campus from time to time and may feel especially at risk of being stopped or harassed by the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) because of their physical appearance. These spaces, while serving a purpose to students most of the time, do belong to New Brunswick as well. If Rutgers is going to occupy so much of New Brunswick’s space, physical and otherwise, then it should do a better job of including it.
When people come to the city to explore the area Rutgers is in, the University only points out the common college hangout places such as Easton Avenue and George Street. This is especially detrimental to the city’s economy of locally owned businesses that are reflective of the communities that live here, because there are only a handful of eateries and shops on these streets that are owned by people who live here. French Street is where most of the varied and delicious locally owned businesses and restaurants are, and most students, faculty and staff either do not know about the area or avoid it because of the exaggerated stigma that it is violent.
To compound these issues, the lack of sufficient University student housing has led to many students moving into the local area, which has caused rent prices and the like to skyrocket for the community members, many of whom live on or below the poverty line. The University can do more to ease these issues affecting New Brunswick that are a direct result of the student population being a part of the community.
However, all of these issues are not new! Considering how little effort Rutgers as an institution puts into trying to engage the New Brunswick community, this should not be surprising. To demonstrate how old some of these issues are, I am going to present you with some information that is over a decade old. In the book “Leading the Way” by Dr. Mary K. Trigg, there’s an essay written by Allison M. Attenello that describes ways in which the community stagnated by means of change. The issues the essay include concerns that are still present today, such as increasingly high rent prices and crime in student-occupied and resident-occupied areas. There was no mention of any other current students or recent graduates at that time working with the New Brunswick community to better residents’ lives. The University has not given enough of a hand to the members of the community even after all it has given.
How can Rutgers revel in its 250th anniversary without acknowledging the fact that it has taken more from the surrounding neighborhood than it has given?
Vanessa Raymond-Garcia is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in women’s and gender studies with a minor in public policy and a dual candidate for a master’s in public policy. Her column, "A Ray of Esperanza," runs on alternate Mondays.
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