Dear President Tripathi,

It’s your turn to talk about the Heights

On February 27, 2013

  • This is how an e-board should behave, admit to their mistakes and accept what punishment is given to them. They were open about going over as far back as the debate and let everyone know. I will say that the new $300 limit is a bit too low for elections this large. It works great for the senate races, but these are a bit bigger. Anonymous #comment 2

We are tired of one-sided conversations and unanswered phone calls, of turned cheeks and of the ticking time bomb that is the University Heights.

So today, we want to make a deal: We are reserving Friday's front page for you. You have the opportunity to say whatever you want about the problems in the Heights, how you feel UB should or should not handle it, respond to students' concerns or write whatever comes into your head. By emailing your response to the address at the bottom of this editorial, you guarantee a spot to answer the criticisms that your school is facing without fear of censorship or spoiled words - a spot to instill faith in the student body.

However, if we don't receive anything from you by 10 p.m. on Thursday, the front page will remain blank. Sometimes nothing speaks louder than silence. We are faced with short deadlines and quick responses day after day, so we realize this isn't a lot of time. But we are tired of waiting.

This is The Spectrum's second editorial of the school year regarding the University Heights district of Buffalo. In October, we made a call for action to UB, encouraging - nay, pleading - with the school to make a push to take care of the living conditions that UB's off-campus residents are subjected to and that UB so willingly endorses as alternative, affordable housing.

In case you failed to notice (but we know you didn't), Monday's paper was dedicated to the area. Our eight-page issue was almost completely occupied by a comprehensive outline of the crime and conditions in the Heights. We had interviews with international students who had few other options besides their unsafe, untended homes. We had other residents - current and former - who felt strong enough about the matter to share their own experiences of break-ins and gunpoint robberies.

And not once have we heard back from you. Not one single word. We've seen you jump at the opportunity to answer questions about school-wide expansion and even gave a full interview to a Spectrum staff writer on state funding for the Center of Excellence for Materials Informatics earlier this month (and you responded quite quickly, at that). This is your school and these are your students and hearing your thoughts on the negative aspects of the former that hurt the latter has been an impossible mission. You and your staff want pats on the back when something good happens but pass the blame on negative press.

It's becoming increasingly evident that we are being played, but we are not the victims of this game; the victims are all the students who are being misguided and misinformed by a school that is supposed to have their best interests at heart. It's supposed to be a school that will protect them, yet Dennis Black, your vice president of University Life and Services, has said you're "not in the protection business" and you're "not guardian angels that can travel with 40,000 people wherever it is they are or wherever they go."

Your students do not need guardian angels, but it does seem like at this point they need a miracle to actually get and hold your attention. Crime after crime and violation after violation, students are told just how little the school is willing to do to help Heights residents. Black told The Spectrum if a student feels unsafe where he or she lives, that person needs to move. To him, that choice is as simple as the choice of drinking alcohol or the time you pick to go out (yes, that is actually what he compared it to).

Meanwhile, somebody else is making the choice to break your windows or steal your money. 

These are not isolated incidents or uncommon occurrences; this is what happens in the Heights - rather frequently, in fact, and increasingly so. Robbery numbers have gone down since 2008, but crime - including homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft - remains unchanged. Five hundred twenty-three crimes in the Heights in 2008, 523 crimes in the Heights in 2012. And enough students who live there feel unsafe and want something done about it.

As for increased police presence (which has been proven to deter crime) by the Buffalo Police Department, Black is all for it.

"I think that anything people can do to take away the opportunity for crime is good," he told The Spectrum at the end of December. "And that's lighting, that's transportation, that's people being smart and that's enhanced police presence."

But as for expanding University Police's jurisdiction to help cover that? It's a no-go. The excuse Black gave us against adding UPD patrol to the Heights? We'll give you a hint: It's green and keeps the university alive.

"Imagine what it would cost for University Police to patrol University Heights," he said. "Who would pay that cost?"

Us probably, like everything else that goes into the university. Black says two things could happen: Cost of attendance would go up and/or other services would go down ("It's not magic," he said).

Is anybody actually going to object to an added service that protects a good percentage of the student body? Plus, the cost of attendance going up is hardly a threat when it is already going up steadily each year to pay for UB 2020, that lovely expansion plan that will increase the school's presence in downtown Buffalo yet continues to ignore South Campus. As a city, Buffalo is relying on UB to pull it from depression, and UB 2020 is supposed to be the program that does so, but what about the facets that are getting ignored in the process?

It only makes sense to give University Police jurisdiction in the University Heights, and community members have no idea why it hasn't been done yet, especially after other universities have taken that step. In September, Ohio State University and the City of Columbus teamed up to give campus police the right to patrol the inner city. In the first two months, violent crime dropped 5 percent from the past 10 years. According to OSU Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp, he just wasn't comfortable having students in a situation where they were getting mugged off campus or held at gunpoint. Clearly UB's administration is.

As Black noted to The Spectrum, doubling up on jurisdiction requires state legislation and approval, but in Ohio's case, University President E. Gordon Gee actually pushed and worked with state legislature to make sure that it was acted upon.

Black's response to that one? Nothing - unless you count a stymied grunt for an answer.

So here we are. How did we get to the point where we say, "Well, it's not as bad as Detroit" or "South Campus isn't as bad as the East and West Side?" This shouldn't even be a talking point - not now and not ever. Our two main campuses are in Amherst and Buffalo. That's what we should be comparing - the two places where our school's flag is flown high.

By name, UB owns the University Heights. It's supposed to be safe, and our students are supposed to be protected. You promote the housing and give us vendors in the area to use Campus Cash and spend our weekends when we're bored of Amherst.

But none of us signed up for what we have to face. 

Most people are coming to Buffalo for the sole purpose of going to school. This is a neighborhood the school promotes, a neighborhood on which you can find listings galore for on Sub-Board and that the school helps find apartments in. Why do we get to go home at the end of the day and have to worry about getting robbed or having our house get broken into?

Every Buffalo official and UB administrator likes to pretend the situation is fine. It's not fine. You can't build up a failing city with a university that will not protect its students. You cannot build up a university while ignoring your student body. And the state is not going to ignore a state university and one of its major centers if you, President Tripathi, try to protect the school's students.

It's not magic.

To all the students who are reading this along with President Tripathi, we hope you are not taking it as lightly as our administration is. In the last few days, we have been accused of muckraking and fear mongering, of exaggerating the severity of the situation. Let us assure you: the problems and the fear already exist.

How many people have to say "the people who are walking around at 3 a.m. should know better and are just asking for it" before one person recognizes residents in the Heights shouldn't have to worry about walking in their neighborhood at 3 a.m. for whatever reason? You should be able to come home without getting robbed between your driveway and your doorstep. You shouldn't have to fear for your life coming home late from work or from studying because your school's administration has blatantly and clear-as-crystal said UB has no responsibility for its students off campus.

If somebody breaks into your house and takes your belongings, there's a chance you can get them back. What we're trying to do is prevent something much bigger from happening that has yet to happen. Things are going to come to a head, and when they do, we at The Spectrum are going to just be forced to cover it again, hoping that story will be the triggering event, hoping the university will finally do something.

It's not enough to just pick up the paper and read it anymore. You have to pick it up, read it and do something about it. You have to tell your friends and your family. You have to get as angry as you should be about the situation. You have to make the university know this is as unfair and unsafe and deplorable as you know it is.

Because this university does not care about you. The administration has said it doesn't want to widen UPD's jurisdiction because tuition will go up, but tuition is still going up. The worse the conditions in the Heights, the more money students are going to be willing to shell out for the ridiculous costs of on-campus living.

For the parents who may be reading this, nobody is going to do anything without your help. We are students who don't find it safe, but after months and years of asking, we are constantly ignored. You have let your children go off to a school that claims it's "not in the protection business," a school that lets them live in an unsafe neighborhood in homes that are not up to code with just a pat on the back and a bill in the mail.

And as to you, President Tripathi, of the 760 students we polled, 82 percent said they think UB should do more to improve the living conditions in the Heights. A majority (54 percent) of the 787 polled on the question "Do you feel safe in University Heights" said no.

How are those numbers you can even continue to ignore? You are trying to build and expand the university as a major force in higher education but refuse to answer the most comprehensive critiques of it. You promote housing off campus for students (especially international students) who cannot afford any other options, yet not only does your administration refuse to help those who are being threatened and who are suffering, it also places all the blame on said students, apathetically declaring their decisions are choices they have the opportunity to change and turn the other cheek.

But if choosing to live in the Heights is just one of many choices we make in our lifetime, as Black so nonchalantly suggests, then some of our other choices must include whether or not to even go to UB, encouraging our children and siblings to go here or even donating money to future development as alumni. If these are our choices, then we can surely guarantee what options the average student is leaning toward, and if you're as concerned with the image of this university as we know you are, you're not going to like what we've all picked.

We await your reply.



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