Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Is What Privilege and Entitlement Look Like

Fear, like rumors, can be viral, and in recent weeks we've had a great example in the coverage of crime near the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. Despite the fact that every story begins by acknowledging the crime rate is the same as it has been for the past several years, the stories go on to quote freaked out people and use words like "crime spree."

Granted, there have been a few more-high-profile assaults this year, but the rate hasn't budged, and so any person's chance of being assaulted is no different than it has been any other year.

But the fear led to a hearing in front of a legislator, of all things. Are you kidding? Does that happen when there's a flat level of crime anywhere else in the cities?

A letter in today's Star Tribune tops it off. Written by a parent from Edina, probably the richest suburb in the area, it reads:

If we’d known then what we know now…

My daughter attends the University of Minnesota, and we are all aware of the massive growth in crime on campus (U students take their crime fears to Senate hearing, Dec. 11). In considering an institution that brings so much money to the area, I’m appalled by the lack of even the most basic amenities for students.

For example, many upper-class students live along the streets surrounding campus. You could drop an atomic bomb in the area and not hit a quality streetlight. I can tell you it makes me sick with worry every night my daughter walks home along dark streets after a late class.

Also, my daughter called recently to say her bus hadn’t shown and that she was waiting in subzero weather for another. There are very few structures to protect students who use these buses regularly in inclement weather.

Also, the dorms are expensive, old, cold and ugly …

If the over-the-top crime had been occurring when we were selecting a college, you can be sure the U would not have been on our list.

Nancy Maxwell, Edina
"Massive growth of crime on campus" "over-the-top crime" — right, that's what "the same amount of crime as in recent years" means.

And then there's the worst point of Maxwell's many bad ones: She's only concerned about upper-class students. I read that paragraph three times trying to figure why she had included that modifier. It still doesn't make sense, except as an overt statement of privilege. I kept thinking she was going to complain that upper-class students lived close and therefore were safer than less-well-off students, who have to live farther away and therefore are more at risk. But no. That was not at all what she wrote.

She also complains that her daughter is cold at the bus stop. This is a combination of cell-phone-tethering to a helicopter parent and a complete lack of contact with reality. Dress for the weather, kid. As a U professor friend said on Facebook yesterday (the day the high temperature was below zero), "I just saw a young woman walking outside wearing a skirt! No leggings... just a skirt, boots, gloves, and big jacket. These kids are crazy." And don't call momma the next time the bus is late.

Maxwell ends with a jab at the dorms as "expensive, old, cold, and ugly." Maybe she hasn't heard that building booms of luxury dorms for comfort-seeking students (or their parents) are part of what has driven up the cost of college in recent decades.

Oh, that's right, she doesn't need to be concerned about the cost of college because she's upper-class.


Reading a few stories on the Minnesota Daily website (the student newspaper of the University) reveals that crime isn't even flat: it's actually down. "University police have recorded a 13 percent drop in crime over the first 10 months of the last six years." The Daily story continued: "The apparent gap between perception and reality isn’t unique to the University community. A May report from the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans surveyed were unaware that gun violence nationwide is lower than it was 20 years ago." 

And this: "The 2nd Precinct, which includes all University neighborhoods in Minneapolis except Cedar-Riverside, is the safest precinct in the city so far this year, according to Minneapolis police statistics."

From the Daily story, I get the impression the fear is based on the new crime alerts that are being issued by the University via text message. One more example of how information is like a virus.


Thanks to Barbara (in the comments below) for her alternate reading of Maxwell's use of the term "upper-class students." Despite the fact that the University does not have any requirements that freshmen live on campus, I now see that Maxwell most likely meant to create her own term for what we used to call "upperclassmen," such as juniors and seniors. Which makes her much less classist, of course, but doesn't touch the underlying problem of her exaggeration of the dangers around the U.


Barbara said...

Is is possible that by "upper-class students" she means juniors and seniors? Are students required to live on campus for the first two years?

Daughter Number Three said...

Sheesh, Barbara, you could be right about what she means: "upper-class students" instead of the old "upperclassmen."

But no students are required to live in the dorms, even in their freshman year, so if that's what she means, it's not too in sync with how things are at the University.

It certainly would be a more charitable reading of what she said.