Despite the placement of a “Williamsburg Welcomes Students” sign at the city’s entrance each fall, it is hard to argue that our town-gown relations are anything but bad. Whether you ask first-year students or longtime residents, few feel good about their relationship with the other side. Williamsburg is a popular spot for retirees and has a median population age of 23; this dichotomy ensures some community imbalance. On the streets directly off campus, the number of houses inhabited by year-round residents and the number inhabited by students are fairly even. College students invariably have different schedules than senior citizens — bad relations are the fault of neither students at the College of William and Mary nor Williamsburg residents, but of the mutual misunderstanding brought by a generation gap. Just as students are not to blame for staying up past 10 p.m., older residents are not to blame for wanting to sleep. The dismal town-gown relations of Williamsburg are not due to the inconsideration of either side, but stem from a general lack of mutual understanding and respect.
If students at the College and Williamsburg residents are committed to improving our relationship as a community, we must talk to each other. Not in City Council debates or public forums, but as neighbors. Failing to introduce yourself or address your neighbors on the street is not only rude, it’s ridiculous. Most students are familiar with their student neighbors, so why should we treat other residents differently? We need to form a connection that extends beyond noise complaints.
Town-gown relations are not bad because of the overwhelming fault of any side, but due to the absurdity of living in such close proximity without getting to know one another. It takes only one student making small talk to change a Williamsburg resident’s view of the College and only one friendly older neighbor to change a student’s view of the residents. The older residents of Williamsburg are not evil or out to get us, they just like to sleep at night. Students are not out of control drunks, we’re just in college. Such differences are more easily understood when actually discussed.
In our effort to end such draconian laws as Williamsburg’s three-person rule and noise ordinance, the student body has largely positioned Williamsburg’s older population as our enemy. A wiser move would be to invite them to be our ally. Nobody enjoys living side-by-side as strangers or as opposing factions; if a dialogue were opened with Williamsburg residents on a neighbor-to-neighbor basis, we could demonstrate our reasoning rather than our anger. In my experience, Williamsburg residents want to befriend us just as we want to get along with them. Neighborhoods sponsor ice cream socials and other events, and students hardly come. We cannot insult their position while we ignore their efforts toward reconciliation.
Please, talk to your neighbors. Otherwise their only impression of you will be when you block their driveway or scream outside their bedroom window at night, and then it won’t be surprising when they call the police rather than asking you to turn the volume down. Students and residents are both at fault for the terrible town-gown relations of Williamsburg because rather than befriending one another, we have ostracized each other. We are right in our attempts to open the dialogue between students and year-round residents, but our communication needs to extend beyond city council meetings.