Rethinking town and gown

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September 16, 2008

3:40 PM

Lost in the chaos of the past weeks has been an exciting trend, one that leads me to believe that students at the College of William and Mary might see a change in the three-person housing rule before the end of this year. Much ink has been spilt on this debate, but even after an intense few years, there are a few misconceptions that remain.

“Matt Beato’s loss in the spring City Council election was a major setback for students.”

Perhaps, but there are many reasons to be optimistic. City Council members, including Mayor Jeanne Zeidler, have indicated a willingness to reach a compromise on the three-person housing rule. Student Assembly President Valerie Hopkins ’09 seems to realize that the all-or-nothing approach to the city from the past several years has failed, largely because it was built on antagonism rather than prudence. Instead of going to City Council with a list of demands as they have in years past, the SA has set up regular meetings with the City Council, and Zeidler says that the relationship this year is one that is more amicable and more likely to produce results. And, of course, the voter registration efforts over the past two years have made a world of difference. The student turnout for last spring’s City Council election, although not enough to get Matt Beato ’09 elected, was validation that progress was being made.

“The three-person housing rule disproportionately affects students.”

Of course, but it’s not going anywhere. The City Council responds to a diverse constituency, and some members of the community are very vocal in their opposition to having students live among them in large numbers. The reality is that the majority of student tenants will be very responsible, but when a small group of properties develop reputations as being animal houses, it’s hard for their neighbors to focus on the positive things that students do for the community. The rule exists because of the conflict between this small group of students and a vocal minority of city residents. Three-person housing will not be abolished, but it can be changed. For instance, the city could establish limits proportional to the number of bedrooms or the number of parking spots available. Because of property values and noise concerns, it’s understandable that the city would want a housing limit, but the fact that they use a uniform standard, with no regard for the number of rooms in each home, is the main reason that the rule affects students more than any other group. It’s also the one area where the city might be willing to compromise.

“The City Council is anti-student.”

False. One need only look on Facebook or read issues of The Flat Hat from the past two years to see that there are many students who believe that the city is out to get them, that many of their policies and initiatives are geared toward preventing students from living off campus, and that the mayor herself harbors some sort of hatred for the student body. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Zeidler attended the College for graduate school. Her husband was a history professor here for more than 30 years. Several other members of her family are graduates. Other City Council members share similar family ties or have worked at the College in the past.

It’s not that they’re anti-student, but like all other practitioners of the political profession, they operate within their own set of constraints and constituent demands. The only way to change that constituency is to register more students to vote, and hopefully to get a student elected to City Council. Until that happens, however, demonizing the City Council will accomplish nothing.

Alexander Ely is a senior at the College.

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