The sign of the times: What ‘The Ghetto’ means to UD

Editor’s note: This is a truncated, condensed version of a critical discourse analysis of how “ghetto” has been used by some main gatekeepered and non-gatekeepered outlets at the university. Please contact the honors program to request access to the full thesis project at 937.229.4615 or email If you would like to add more to this discussion, please email

By: Amanda Dee – Former Online Editor-in-Chief

Dayton Flyers love “The Ghetto.” If they don’t, they might not be included in the community.

“From what I have seen, those who are ‘offended’ by the word are simply people who feel the need to ‘make a statement,’ or ‘have a cause,’” a student respondent to an online survey said on March 2. “The school’s administration does not need to give in to the overly sensitive, loud minority who oppose this term. Too many students/alum love the neighborhood and this term to stop using it, and I pray it never dies.”

In the anonymous online survey, 1,112 participants responded to a mandatory multiple-choice question – “How do you feel about the word ‘ghetto’ referring to the student neighborhood?” – as well as three other optional questions, which included one’s relation to the university and their feelings toward the word “ghetto.”

Respondents ranged from self-identified University of Dayton students to faculty and staff to alumni, but the sample was enough only to numerically represent students. Approximately 67 percent of respondents said they support using the nickname “The Ghetto” to describe the “South Student Neighborhood,” as the university officially calls it, while 19 percent don’t care and 13 percent oppose its current use.

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ghetto” as “the quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted.” Merriam-Webster also defines it as “a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure” or “an isolated group.”

However, positive associations with the university’s “ghetto” connect the word to “tradition” and “community,” referenced in the survey 151 times and 218 times, respectively.

ArtStreet created a collaborative art project called GHETTO that visually represented the commercialization of “ghetto” through the creation of a political fashion line. A necklace crafted with bullets as beads rang up to $626 in the project to represent the “626 children under the age of 12 killed or injured by gun violence in the U.S. in 2014.”

ArtStreet Director Brian LaDuca worked with other staff, faculty and students crosscutting disciplines from engineering to human rights to fine arts. Local artist/choreographer and Sinclair Community College professor Rodney Veal took the artistic lead.

“Culturally, where people are getting their information from [is] interacting with human beings, and that’s typical,” Veal said. “We’re still using it casually because those people who went to school at UD 50 years ago are still here! UD has a pretty large legacy component to its population, so it’s only natural for it to be that casual to use it.”


After ArtStreet’s GHETTO exhibition opened February 2015, the conversation about the term to describe the student neighborhood started, generating two Flyer News articles responding to the nickname, but voices weren’t raised until the start of the fall 2015 semester, when Flyer News published a column called “Stop calling our neighborhood the Ghetto.”

The article hit a Flyer News-high of 9,000 views. Thirteen articles followed, averaging between 1,000 – 3,000 hits. Students held a silent protest in Kennedy Union Mall Oct. 21 to show support for those speaking out against “The Ghetto.”

The article and protest sparked online comments on social media sites like Twitter and Yik Yak, where anyone can post anonymously to a forum bound by a geographic location. “Im [sic] sick of seeing all this black lives matter shit. ALL LIVES MATTER!” someone posted on Yik Yak after the protest. “To whomever took my kkk garment out of the dryer I will find another,” another said.

Out of 8,226 enrolled undergraduates in the fall of 2015, more than 77 percent identified as white, as cited by the UD Fact Book. Religiously, 3,981 identified as Catholic, or a little greater than 48 percent. Five-hundred-thirty-five full-time faculty members taught at the university, and more than 77 percent also identified as white.

However, since 2005, the “minority” faculty population has nearly doubled to 16 percent, while the “white” population has decreased by approximately four percent.

“We are becoming more diverse. We want diversity. We need to be a place that allows for stronger voices of color, LGBTQ voices, women voices at this university,” LaDuca said. “That is in our Marianist value systems and our missions and our charisms. We ask for the sign of the times.”

The day after the silent protest, @Brownsflyer responded “Make it stop,” to Flyer News’ Twitter account on an article about the word’s potential harm to minority groups. On the day of the silent student protest, @collinframburg tweeted at the Flyer News Twitter account, “i dont think anyone really gives a sh-t that we call our neighborhood the ghetto. We aren’t that special.”

Communication professor Teresa Thompson, Ph.D., did a one-year ethnography of the student neighborhood in 2003. She planned to publish her research in a book, until her computer crashed and she realized “the deeper [she] got into it, [she] realized there was no way [she] could do it without making the university look bad.” (She considered writing a chapter on peeing practices.)


The student neighborhood started as housing for National Cash Register workers, founded by John Patterson, an alumna of St. Mary’s before UD changed its name. The NCR factory resided near Main and Stewart Streets. The neighborhood was not a ghetto in its beginning, though it was a distinct pocket between the cities of Dayton and Oakwood, where Patterson housed management in some of the most expensive houses in the Oakwood area. When NCR left and employees’ relatives moved on, more and more students started living there, most of which were WWII soldiers then Korean War soldiers who didn’t want the rules that accompanied dorm living.

Bro. Raymond Fitz became president of the university in 1979, when the school was transitioning more fully into a residential campus.

“Because we got more and more students in the neighborhood, we saw that it was gonna be necessary for UD to do a better job of trying to set the norms in the neighborhood,” he said. “With the planning that we did, we made the decision to buy as many houses that we could. And people living there were gonna own them and leave the neighborhood – landlords were gonna get them or the university.”

When Thompson reached out to other universities during her ethnography in 2003, they had no idea what she was talking about when she explained the UD student neighborhood.

The GHETTO art installation research team discovered more than 16 other universities whose students used the term “ghetto” to describe the student housing. Although “student ghettos” exist, landlords, not universities, dominate most of them: Augustana College, Miami University-Oxford, University at Albany (SUNY), to name a few.  


In the ’60s, University of Dayton students nicknamed the student neighborhood “The Ghetto” – a term that now has its own Wikipedia page and geotag on Instagram and Facebook – and spread it through the neighborhood and to administration and faculty conference rooms.

In 1972, Flyer News first featured the word in the context of the student neighborhood, but not in the endearing sense it’s used today. When the student paper first used the word, it was in response to the dilapidated condition of the housing that the university was just starting to purchase. It also surrounded references to city of Dayton community members as “riff raff,” a slur referring to the “lower class.” “See the cafeterias. See how fancy they are. That was done so you would forget how bad the food is,” the article read. “It was also done to keep the off-campus riffraff out. After all it is not called a ghetto for nothing.”

In September 1975, Flyer News published an article about summer renovations to the student housing, referring to “ghetto” in the same sense as the article from three years prior. “The ghetto may lose its nickname before long, due to a three year improvement program implemented by the Housing Office,” the lead read.

Although the neighborhood was called a “ghetto,” it was in reference to being forced to live in homes that weren’t maintained. In the fall 2015 semester, a 1969 alumnus argued not about the racial implications but the economic implications of the term, saying it “really was a ghetto in the 1960s, and burning couches in the street was a good way to get replacement furniture the next year, as by the spring, most of the seating devices were worn out and bug-infested.”

Some alumni and current students, however, associate the word with “community,” “home” and “pride.”

GHETTO collaborator Shamell Brandon, Psy.D., of the university’s Counseling Center, explained the positive association of “ghetto” to “tradition” as “the result of humans being humans.”

“When we find something that’s pleasant, it’s natural and understandable to want to hold tight to it as tightly as possible, and sometimes forget that gripping it so tightly might injure this pleasant thing that found its way into your hand in the first place because you were open enough to have it,” Brandon said. “So, I think the memory of good times at UD is something that might be held really tightly at the detriment of looking at what’s the impact of that tight-balled fist. There’s not a lot of kind human things that we can do with fists. But it’s also a human thing to make them.”

“Some people don’t want to listen,” a respondent opposing the continued use of “ghetto” said, “and that’s the saddest part.”

Photo from Flyer News Feb. 20, 1976. Graphic by Art Director Kelsey Mills. 

Flyer News: Univ. of Dayton's Student Newspaper