The City of Brotherly Love… and War

Philadelphia is an interesting city, to the say the least, in the fact that besides being the birthplace of America, it also remains a hub of activity and rebirth in the country.

Thankfully, this is a point that remains true as it is the center of the Northeast Regional Honors Conference this weekend, where Honors students from all over the country gather to do a whole mess of things. Mostly, we discuss ideas for our Honors programs, we discuss academic ideas, we talk about life and we run amok around this city, and whatever other cities in the past and coming years that we get the opportunity to be sent of, luckily free of charge for some of us thanks to our generous universities.

What’s really cool about Philly is that it’s a combination of Old City, where our former presidents gathered to assemble this country (whether or not they would be satisfied with the results now is not applicable) and this paired with the People, who today, as a main city in the Northeast, are innovative, not afraid to be themselves, and not afraid of anything, really.

Tonight, this worked against Dr. Lucy Kerman, Keynote Speaker for the NCHC Conference and Vice Provost for University Partnerships at Drexel University. I really hate to put words in her mouth here without too many direct quotes, but I’m going to try to paraphrase her presentation the best I can for argument’s sake and quote where possible. (Audio will be posted when it becomes available).

According to Kerman, universities are not civilly active enough, in part at the fault of their students, their customers, really. It is because of these students that residents in low-income housing are forced to deal with their childlike shenanigans because these “middle class white kids” “stay up till 3:00 am having parties and being loud and drinking” and they live in “converted family homes that now illegally house six white middle-class students.” In part, it is to the fault of these students that crimes occur in the first place because “they walk home at 2:00 am with beers and their iPhones.”

Mad? Oh yeah. Us too. Keep in mind as well this isn’t your 95-year-old neighbor complaining about those damn loud kids interrupting her sleep at 8:00 pm. This is a Vice Provost at a 122-year-old University speaking who oversees about 22,000 students.

Now, let me move onto her basic point, unfortunately hidden behind a singularly faceted utopian “solution” to a problem with multifaceted causes; that universities need to funnel their money back into the community by sending students out to use their skills to help by sending them in to design storefronts, employ low-income residents with “no skills” (good luck with that one), make sure that playgrounds are safe, and improve drainage. Not too shabby, right? Especially considering Drexel, who formed this “universal” model, also received a ten million dollar grant to implement this. Must be nice.

Unfortunately, putting every student into a single pool where all of our mommies and daddies can shell out $57,000 to $60,000 each year (the range of tuition at Drexel University including education, room and board, and meal plans) is probably not the best idea. In reality, who is at fault for students being thrown out into on-campus housing where they “damage” the community? Is it, as Kerman stated, “the investors who buy the housing and charge low prices to attract students” to make a profit or is it because university housing can literally be double what students will pay to live off-campus?

We’re not choosing off-campus housing because we enjoy irritating residents or because we want to run around these particularly dangerous streets, especially in some parts of Philadelphia Kerman was particularly referencing, in a drunken stupor. It’s because we are broke as hell, because American universities have become businesses before places of education, where you either choose a university based on the scholarship you receive or you graduate, unemployed, with 200k in loans. Also, as an FYI, 135 nations out of 196 in the world employ free post secondary education to citizens. America, obviously, isn’t one of them.

An interesting point was also brought up by an administrator who mentioned that yes, 20 years ago, her argument could be a valid one, where parents did shell out money for spoiled college kids. Many of those kids didn’t work multiple jobs or pray that they would even be employed within one year of graduation or even get social security when they hit 65. These weren’t problems then. However, 48 years ago, we segregated schools based on race. Years go on. Things change. I would hope a Vice Provost could acknowledge that in a speech she is giving in 2013, where the financial crisis has cost America, as of now since 2008, 22 trillion dollars.

I’m also a little confused on what the separation is between a student resident in a community and an employed “adult” resident. Legally, what is the difference here? I would seriously love to know. What gives someone else more rights than me to live in a city? Because I’m 22 and you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Animal House too many times?

Also, it must be considered that those coming to universities with comments the most are obviously always going to be those with complaints. How many times has your neighbor said to you “Hey, thanks for not being annoying last night”? Instead, it is the negative that will always be brought to attention over the positive, a very simple logical idea that has been forgotten with a Vice Provost with a Ph.D..

I guess I missed the part where every student in America became a “middle class white kid” (her words, no but seriously) when instead, as I had observed, almost every college student I know works more than one part-time job, literally works 15 hour days when you factor in school, work, and extracurricular activities, and will still graduate with loans they will pay off until they’re 40…. When they will then attempt to send their own kids off to school. Maybe instead of trying to force broke-ass college students who sometimes commute upwards of two hours a day in total to and from college because they can’t afford room and board, highly paid school administrators pointing the finger, as our dear Kerman here, can redirect some of their own dollars to the problem.

As much as I was horrified during this discussion to see a Vice Provost so unbearably out of touch with one of the most obvious problems of American education (the rising costs of tuition and the inability of students to change this business-education model) I also breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a ballroom full of 20-year-olds who don’t even hold a college degree yet up in arms and willing to stand up and face someone who stands tall at her podium with her PowerPoint clicker and ask her how she can expect students to be civilly active when she depicts this “demonic caricature of students,” as Aziz Mama, Monmouth University senior, asked Kerman. They weren’t afraid to say This isn’t right, and you will not offend me and disregard me as another cash cow.

It is this attitude, I think, that envelops and defines Philadelphia; a city that will listen intently to the words you have to say, fight against you with all it has, and vow to be more different and more worthwhile than you ever imagined.

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