Every weekend — and weekday, if you’re into that — Binghamton University students swarm Downtown Binghamton. We go to bars, we spend money on a midnight slice of pizza, but most of all, we disturb the residents of the city.
There is a distinct divide between BU students and residents in the community. We generally don’t befriend nonstudents when we’re at the bars, and I’ve often heard students refer negatively to the “townies.” On the surface, it makes sense why students are so detached from the community; we’re here for about four years, and when we’re not Downtown to party, we’re focusing on our schoolwork back in our luxury apartments or on campus.
But why is it a problem that we’re so clearly separate from the community?
When I attended a community town hall last week at a church Downtown, I heard residents talk about the problems they’re facing. Right off the bat, housing was brought up as a major concern. Community members described how much rent has risen on the West Side of Binghamton and Downtown for the sake of landlords making money off of students.
One woman explained how houses and apartments are renovated, taking properties that used to be under $1,000 and selling them for hundreds of dollars per bedroom — anywhere from $300 to $900 — prices only students are willing and able to pay.
Here, students are directly hurting community members. We are gentrifying this area — an area that already has a 33.9 percent poverty rate. Whether we know it or not, we push residents out of their longtime homes, and we must acknowledge this issue.
This rift is also visible in our notions of safety. The University’s proposal to install blue lights on the West Side last semester prompted a two-weeklong sit-in at the Couper Administration Building. The University and some students insisted the blue lights would keep students safe off campus. But the protesting students disagreed, citing concerns that they are ineffective, as shown in a Syracuse University study that found that of 10,000 times blue lights were used, fewer than 12 instances were because students actually needed help.
The other concern was that the money was earmarked for impact aid, meaning it should help the greater Binghamton community — not just students. The blue lights would’ve just provided more surveillance in an area where community relationships with police aren’t great. And even if you’re pro-policing, more blue lights would’ve raised property values even more, bringing up gentrification again.
The main issue was that community members had no say in where the money would go, even though whatever that money was used for would have affected them.
That blue-light situation was, in a nutshell, a representation of this disconnect. What the University views as safety isn’t necessarily safe for the whole community. The Binghamton community has huge problems with poverty, mental illness and drug use — in Broome County, there have been at least 55 drug-related deaths so far in 2017; these are things that we should tackle if we want to talk about safety.
Housing and safety are just two pieces of the whole picture. The truth is that many in the Binghamton community view students as privileged and uncaring. Whatever we do now to impact the Binghamton community, we’ll end up leaving here. These folks will still be here and have to live with what we’ve done.
As students, we are not the only part of this community. We should be trying to remedy this divide by getting involved with community organizations, attending town-hall meetings or going to events in the community. Let’s build these relationships and impact the area for the better, together.
Maybe we’ll get to a point where we’ll go Downtown for more than just a fancy apartment or a drink.
Sarah Molano is a junior majoring in English.