As UR students, we are all familiar with the stories about the neighborhood across the bridge, the 19th Ward. New freshmen are warned by older students that the neighborhood is a ‘no-go’ zone, a place where you don’t walk at night and never walk alone. While these juicy stories make the college experience seem more exciting and even a little dangerous, they are just stories. They do not depict the real 19th Ward and, in the end, they only work to drive us apart from a vital part of our community.

This past weekend, we witnessed a very rude demonstration of what has contributed to the negative image of the 19th Ward these past few years. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on Friday, the Rochester Police Department received a 911 call in reference to gunshots on Genesee Street, across the river from the UR campus. One of the two victims sustained a bullet wound to the leg, while the second was pronounced dead upon arrival at Strong Hospital.

This tragic event would only seem to reinforce the negative perception of the 19th Ward that so many UR students possess. This makes the neighborhood seem unsafe and unfriendly – a place you want to avoid. Students don’t view the 19th Ward as a neighbor. They view it as an unwelcome guest to their safe, isolated campus. Yet this perception is false and, in the end, destructive to what we can accomplish as members of this community.

While it is true that crime exists in the 19th Ward, simple safety precautions can prevent incidents from occurring. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that you don’t walk around alone late at night, whether you are on or off campus. Tell someone where you are going, so if something does go wrong, someone knows. Carry a cell phone and avoid side streets. Know where you are going, and don’t wander around. These simple, logical precautions can protect you in almost any situation.

Most of the people who tell the tall tales about the 19th Ward actually have no basis on which to say anything at all. They have never lived there; they rarely, if ever, venture over there and they only serve to pass on the rumors and stories they hear from other people. When you actually speak to University staff and students who live and work in the 19th Ward, a different, more real picture is formed.

You hear about a neighborhood that seems completely different than the one often spoken of on campus. It is referred to as a lively and vibrant community, with diversity that makes all races and ethnicities feel welcome. It is a place for people to bond with neighbors and become part of a strong community mind set. Students who live in the 19th Ward feel safe and welcome. They treat it as their home, and they have no plans to leave. For those who actually live and work in the 19th Ward, it is not a dangerous haven that deserves avoidance. It is a place they call home, a place where they feel like part of a community that matters.

Prominent in the minds of many University students is the potential for University expansion across the river. What about Brooks Landing? Is it safe? What about new housing? Is the University going to provide security across the river? Are they working with the Rochester Police Department? Are these developments going to be postponed or stopped altogether? These are very important questions that deserve answers. But don’t assume you know the answers, and don’t ask people who know as little as you do.

Seek out information from those who have the experience and knowledge to tell you. Attend seminars about campus security. Attend meetings about off campus housing. Ask your RAs or your student government representatives where you can find more information. Seek out students and professors who live and work in the 19th Ward. Only those who experience the neighborhood on a day-to-day basis have the authority to tell you what it’s like. Don’t be consumed by the juicy stories you hear in the dorm. Seek out the truth and reality of the situation before passing judgment.

The reality is that the 19th Ward is our neighbor. We need to reach out and engage its residents in a dialogue about how we can interact with them to break down the negative perception that exists and build a strong and lasting partnership. We can learn a lot from them, and they can learn a lot from us. The 19th Ward and UR have so much to offer each other; we should never miss an opportunity to work together to grow and prosper.

Chase is a member of the class of 2010.

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