Photo of the student neighborhood courtesy of Christian Cubacub
For three years, I, like most students at the University of Dayton, referred to the South Student Neighborhood pretty much exclusively as the “ghetto.”
I grew up in Dayton with several UD alumni close to me, and I heard plenty of stories about the “ghetto.” These stories almost felt like fairy tales; the “ghetto” was this magical place where everyone was so hospitable and the parties seemingly never ended.
I didn’t think it was possible, but when I got here the “ghetto” surpassed even my highest expectations. From years and years of hearing and saying it, I continued to refer to the South Student Neighborhood as the “ghetto.” I never even gave it a second thought—that’s just what it was called.
An event last semester changed my outlook. If you didn’t see it here’s the SparksNotes version.
Dayton posted an Instagram video showing off the student neighborhood that was met with alumni and students saying that the school should embrace the name the “ghetto” instead of trying to hide from it.
According to a Flyer News article, some students of color responded to these comments, saying that “the term ‘ghetto’ is offensive because it denotes an impoverished urban area; whereas, the student neighborhood is mostly renovated and predominantly houses White and upper middle-class students.”
I had never heard that perspective before, but it made a lot of sense to me. I made an attempt to change the way I look at the topic, but many others were dismissive and angry. Some have even gone as far as telling students of color they don’t belong on campus for their difference of opinion.
Let’s get this out of the way, I don’t think you are racist if you call the student neighborhood the “ghetto.” In fact, I would bet that most students and alumni have never even thought about the term relating to race at all.
The bottom line is this: I am a white kid from the suburbs, my race has not affected my life. Unfortunately, for students of color, this is not the case. When it comes to deciding what is and isn’t insensitive, I choose to listen.
When students of color in our community explain why the term is insensitive, and instead of listening, you dismiss their viewpoint and tell them they don’t belong in our community, that is racist.
It was a very small minority of people that were making those comments, and I have faith in this community to listen and consider making a change to how we view the subject.
Dayton’s student neighborhood is a wonderful place that has given me the best memories of life. I can’t wait to tell my kids about the countless long days and wild nights that my friends and I spent in the student neighborhood.
For a lot of students and alumni, the term “the ghetto” is intrinsically tied to all of those great memories that they’ve made. So sure, I can understand why so many people are hesitant to make a change.
Changing the name won’t take those moments away. We’ll still be able to look back on our time here with the same fondness. I care more about the people that helped make those memories than the name of the place they happened; if we can make some of those people more comfortable just by doing something as simple as changing one word in our vocabulary, I think we should.
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