The City of Charlottesville is home to more than 45,000 people. Members of the Charlottesville community are a part of schools, sports leagues and social clubs. The University, when in session, has slightly more than 20,000 students. Yet how often do University students think of Charlottesville residents? University students could not function as is without the huge community that we benefit from and ignore everyday. As University students we hold ourselves above Charlottesville and don’t give back enough. This needs to change.
Often students’ actions show a lack of concern for the community. At Foxfield students will drunkenly take over the race grounds without a thought to all the members of the community who must pick up after them. One must look no further than the inordinate amount of anger a safety fence — which people have torn down instead of worked to get removed — has created in the student body to understand the lack of respect that students have for the Charlottesville community. Although it is not quantifiable, many students who get sucked into the University “bubble” don’t give any thought to the Charlottesville community that surrounds them, emitting an attitude of apathy toward the community that is completely out of line with the benefits we get from Charlottesville.
The greater Charlottesville community has done a considerable amount for the University and students. When Hannah Graham disappeared it wasn’t just students who came out to search; many community members came out to help. Yet when University students look back at that time we talk about how the University came together during that difficult time in solidarity — our narratives naturally exclude the Charlottesville community. This is a criminal level of ignorance in what is supposed to be a center of learning.
Evidence of other benefits students get from Charlottesville, and their lack of appreciation, are clear. Students tend to take buses to Barracks Road Shopping Center or sometimes Downtown Charlottesville (on the rare occasion they venture from the Corner). Students use the city buses and go to places run by Charlottesville residents. The firefighters who come when we burn Easy Mac are Charlottesville residents, as are many of the officers of the Charlottesville Police Department. The community provides so much for members of the University and many students respond with only apathy. This apathy is demeaning for Charlottesville residents. Students should care about a community that has given us so much, but instead they take it for granted.
There are some ways in which students give back. Paying taxes is the most obvious and widespread way — however, paying taxes is passive and does little to counteract students’ apathy. Many volunteer through Madison House, which connects more than 3,000 students with the community. Madison House programs like Big Siblings and Cavs in the Classroom are great ways students connect with members of the Charlottesville community and give back. However, many people volunteer to put it on their resume, and this leads them to make only superficial bonds with the community. Though the volunteering they do is good, students holding themselves apart from their service only contributes to the apathy the University community has toward Charlottesville. Additionally, 3,000 is a large number of volunteers but only a small minority of the University students.
Students need a change in attitude. This starts by interacting with members of the Charlottesville community. Students don’t have to join a charity to do this, though volunteering is an excellent way to create relationships with Charlottesville residents. Go to events outside of the University, not advertised for University students. Join a community organization. Though means for transportation may be a factor, it isn’t difficult for students to just take a bus or drive downtown. Just go somewhere that isn’t Grounds or the Corner. Additionally, there are programs such as VISAS that connect students to the community right on Grounds. The key is to get University students to understand that they are part of a greater community that is just as important, if not more important, than the University community alone.
It’s hard to imagine the University without the support of the Charlottesville community. The recent event Take Back the Night was partially coordinated by SARA, a community organization. While students protested and attacked the Phi Kappa Psi house in the immediate wake of the Rolling Stones article, Charlottesville Police diligently protected the house despite the allegations. Yet we as a University consistently keep the Charlottesville community out of our dialogues. A solid of example of this disconnect is The Cavalier Daily’s sections on letters from the “community” and responses to Martese Johnson’s arrest, none of which offer the opinion of a member of the Charlottesville community. The University needs to struggle against our inherent apathy and understand that the Charlottesville community matters.
Bobby Doyle is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.