Welcoming student neighbors

Aug. 18, 2013 @ 06:35 PM

You can tell by the stacks of items like mini-fridges and futons in big-box stores. You can tell by the longer lines and packed tables at restaurants in certain locations. You can tell by the shopping carts piled with the necessities of dorm and apartment life.

Yes, the students – tens of thousands of them – are back in town.

Classes begin today at N. C. Central University, where freshmen began moving onto campus more than a week ago.  AT UNC, where move-in started last week, classes start Tuesday. And Duke students, the last of our major waves to arrive, start moving into freshmen dorms Tuesday. Returning Duke students start moving into the dorms Friday and by next week, a new academic year will be in full swing at all three university campuses – not to mention at Durham Technical Community College, where thousands more students are enrolled in everything from specific vocational programs to the first two years of what eventually will be a four-year college degree.

In Durham, the advent of a new school term doesn’t have quite the impact it might once have had, when our city was smaller, nor that it has today in Chapel Hill, where the community rhythm far more closely follows the academic calendar even now.

But we still feel the impact here. Especially in neighborhoods near our campuses, where thousands of off-campus students (two-thirds of NCCU undergrads, for example) instill a distinctly youthful flavor and, yes, sometimes cause a bit of friction. The sleep/wake cycles and sense of outdoor decorum of some of the young are not always in sync with those of their older and more settled neighbors.

And for young men and women in their late teens and early 20s, surrounded by peers, untethered from parental boundaries, and feeling a need to blow off steam from stressful academic challenges – well, the temptation can be strong to party a bit more raucously than older neighbors might appreciate.

But student groups and campus administrators alike have worked hard in recent years, as have neighborhood leaders around our campuses, to find ways to smooth the rough edges of students living amid non-students. Both generations benefit when each tries its best to understand the sensibilities of the other, and to look for amiable ways to resolve differences that can arise in close proximity.

At the end of the day, we suspect that vast majority of us believe the occasional inconveniences are outweighed by the advantages of being so strongly infiltrated and influenced by academic institutions. From the vicarious pleasure (or pain….) we can feel from their athletic pursuits, to the cultural smorgasbord and cosmopolitan variety they bring, we benefit.  And while youthful exuberance may at times be a bit overwhelming, the infusion of youthful energy, imagination and creativity enriches our lives.

 So with another summer hiatus coming to an end, we can enthusiastically welcome back our student neighbors. And we wish them the best of luck, in the classrooms and labs and in our city.