Letter to the Editor: solidarity does not look like a fence

By: Rachel Snodgrass

*Editor’s note: The fence being constructed around the basketball courts costs approximately $170,000 and is funded by a private donor. Since the courts opened in fall of 2010, there have been 60 crimes reported near the courts, 47 of which were crimes of opportunity. As of now, community members will have to take a photo ID card to O’Connor Sports Center before getting an access card that will allow them to use the courts. When they are done playing, they must go back to O’Connor to return the card and get their ID back. Community members will only be able to access the courts during O’Connor’s hours.*

Last Monday, a silent demonstration was held by a small group of students to show disapproval of the fence being built around the outdoor basketball courts. Later in the afternoon, some of the students attended a Senate meeting to express concerns. Many other students, when invited to join, shared confusion about what is actually happening at the courts and why people are against the fence. Many also questioned holding a protest when construction is already underway.

I understand that the University has a responsibility to control crime and protect people on campus. But from there, I am pretty confused as well. I am confused as to how a fence stops crime and why the volleyball courts, also private property of the university used by those from surrounding communities, are not fenced off.

I am confused as to why only one student was on the board that made the recommendation to build the fence, why previous actions have not been taken by the student body (myself included) and why only approximately ten students showed up to learn about the process at the forum held Nov. 20.

More concerning, I am confused about why students at a Jesuit University are not critically questioning the deeper issues that surround construction and implementation of the fence and seem to be taking safety as a simple answer. It is critical that we question what purpose a fence actually serves and whether there are better, more creative solutions that would serve both students and the surrounding community.

The true problem is about more than one particular fence or the timing of one demonstration; rather, it is that as students as a whole, we allow ourselves to be spoon-fed surface-level information and don’t feel we have the power to question it.

We don’t question the ways that the fence may discriminate against people who use the basketball courts rather than the volleyball courts. We don’t question the ways in which the ID system discriminates against those who do not have a photo ID or do not have the money, time or transportation to go get one in order to play basketball. We do not question the ways in which it discriminates against teens in the community whose parents may be working multiple jobs or other kids to take care of and can’t go to O’Connor to sign a waiver.

We don’t question how O’Connor running the system will limit court use, especially during the summer when O’Connor has restricted hours. We don’t take into account how, as a Jesuit University, we may be discriminating against people according to race or socioeconomic status — even if that is not the intention. By building this fence and implementing the currently proposed system, are we really living up to our Jesuit values and the mission of our University?

I believe the answer lies in critical self-examination and questions that are hard to ask, as well as genuine solidarity that doesn’t need to be programmed into a community basketball tournament hosted by the University. The answer lies in campus police interacting with people on the courts rather than sitting in their cars. It includes students having casual conversations with community members on campus and going down to the courts to play a game of ball, fence or no fence.

It lies in viewing this as an opportunity to come together as a student body to think critically about better and more creative solutions (such as lockers to reduce theft, which accounts for most of the crime) that have the potential to build solidarity rather than barriers.

As students stated at the demonstration, solidarity doesn’t look like a fence, and you can’t build community by creating barriers.