By: Leo J. Schenk – Sophomore – History, Political Science
I’m sure you are all aware by now of the University of Dayton’s distaste for “The Ghetto,” the affectionate name we have for the south student neighborhood. They claim it doesn’t promote the academic atmosphere and that it disturbs the form of community they want to be presenting, both to us and to the outside world. It does make sense, seeing as how the definition of the word according to Merriam-Webster is “a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live, usually in poor conditions.” The societal connotations for the word are rarely much better, if not a bit worse.
As a student of history and debating philosophies, I view the school’s attempts to control our language as an argument based off of the concept of “Critical Discourse Analysis.” This theory posits that the language one uses to refer to places, people and things affects the view one has toward those things. Thus, in the eyes of the university, it would be logical to claim that referring to the cluster of student houses as “The Ghetto” would have all of the negative effects they claim it does.
But does it actually?
The problem with CDA, which the university ignores, is that the theory does not take into account the history of the area and the reasons why the students feel such affection toward this name. If you look at the history of the Ghetto, it has never been an actual ghetto by the definition of the term. Until the mid-1870s, the area was owned by local hero John Patterson, when it was divided between National Cash Register worker housing and suburban housing. Known as the town of Babbitt (after one of the primary four owners of the land), it was upper-middle class housing for the time and included the four streets of Lowes, Kiefaber, Hughes (now Stonemill) and Wead (now Lawnview). NCR used it as housing for its workers, and it continued to be a middle-class neighborhood even after annexation by the city of Dayton in 1906. The university’s student housing plan didn’t begin until the 1950s, overtaking the previously middle-class working population by the 1970s. Knowing and remembering all of this history is very important before even considering trying to alter what the population of this area has called it. There have been other attempts to change the name, such as to “The Village” in the 1960s, but these have failed due to the students’ lack of enthusiasm.
This indifference toward name change isn’t from any sort of apathy on the part of the students or from there being much in the way of simple administration resentment. No, the students simply have grown to love the Ghetto because of their time here. Everyone who ever talks about the Ghetto remembers their first experience there, when they, scared and wandering around with a group of people they probably just met, found that every person they saw was smiling at them and welcoming them generously into their homes. The student body loves the Ghetto as a whole, and this love extends to its name, overcoming any possible resentment for the definition of the name. This is why the university has failed to change the name in the past and, I suspect, will continue to fail. For my part, I will certainly continue using the name I know for one of the most welcoming aspects of the university, as it is one of my favorite aspects of the campus as a community.
I believe that if the university is really trying to foster community, then they should be working toward building the community ideal already in place into something healthy for all students, instead of focusing on trying and failing to change the name of the Ghetto.