Haulman misrepresents us

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November 14, 2008

12:20 AM

Drunk driving presents a clear threat to the health of any community. Even the College of William and Mary’s relatively compact campus does not eliminate the risk entirely. Fortunately, the Steer Clear system, now up and running again, provides a safe, reliable transportation option on weekend evenings. However, Williamsburg Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman considers it nothing but a “drunk bus” for students who could otherwise “stumble home,” as he stated at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

For someone who has billed himself as the crucial bridge between the students and the city, Haulman seems curiously out of touch with the realities of campus life. Students drink. They drink on campus, and they drink off campus. Sometimes they drive to get to a party, and designated drivers fall through or make irresponsible decisions. Steer Clear exists as insurance. It hardly facilitates drunkenness. To believe that students will cancel a party on, say, Cary Street if Steer Clear fails to operate misunderstands its function. Steer Clear’s opponents ought to realize that when the “drunk bus” picks up a student from the Midlands who would have gotten behind the wheel otherwise, it saves lives. And saving lives, we think, is a worthwhile purpose. Its service is a response to that culture, not the cause of it.

Moreover, Haulman’s disingenuous comments at yesterday’s council meeting represented an attempt to pander to a fearful electorate and an effort to reinforce negative stereotypes about students living off campus. Despite his concerns, 200-person parties don’t exist at this school. Just because vomiting, public urination and property destruction sometimes occur, does not mean they define the student renting experience.

Haulman’s rattling off of these concerns came just a day after he held a meeting to discuss student needs. Referring to town-gown relations, he told students, “I know that students are positive contributors to the neighborhoods.” That split opinion doesn’t sit well with us. Haulman cannot demonize his student constituents when they aren’t in the room and tell them he’ll champion their concerns when they are present.

Councilman Paul Freiling ’83, in contrast, stood up to this assault on students, pointing out that misbehavior arises in a minority of offenders. We applaud him for that and believe his presence on the council is key to improving student-city relations. But if Haulman continues to speak out against sensible drunk-driving safeguards, if he continues to misrepresent the majority of students, then we can guarantee that those improvements will never be permanent.

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