According to the US
Burlington is home
to over 16,700
city is also home to
one university and
totaling over 15,000
students. It’s a
Needless to say,
there is tension
and residents trying
to live peacefully
families. We’ve all
adults tend to
believe of college
students: they party
24/7, they skip
class all the time.
We’ve also heard the
neighbors: they all
hate kids, they
don’t have any fun.
and UVM Anthropology
Vivanco shines a new
the stereotypes that exist between students and their neighbors.
Vivanco lives on Brookes Avenue with his wife and three children. They experience frustrations with walk-by noise, disrespect of their property and general defiance. However, even after an experience that would send most people into a long-term fury, Vivanco refuses to stereotype all students.
Vivanco recently confronted a house full of boys who were “totally drunk and making a whole lot of noise.” Upon approaching the boys and asking them to keep it down (this was not the first time this talk had occurred), the boys became belligerent, shouting “who are you to talk?” and even “you look like a pedophile.”
As awful as the incident was, it was rare. “This is once in 12 years – I see this as an exception,” Vivanco said. “A lot of people don’t, and this is where the stereotyping happens. Because of this one event, everyone is condemned.”
The Danger of Anonymity
Anonymity, Vivanco thinks, is the main reason students are looked down on by so many of their neighbors. Students are often anonymous and unaccountable, he explains, which makes it easy for their neighbors to generalize and stereotype them.
“Students don’t necessarily feel tightly connected to their neighbors. You don’t think there are real people there or that you have any obligations,” Vivanco said. “It’s a deeper cultural dynamic that we need to disrupt.”
Vivanco rattled off a few stereotypes of college students that he had heard before. Privileged, entitled, disrespectful, and unappreciative were among his list. He doesn’t believe any of these to be true, because he has also seen cases where students present quite the opposite.
As a professor, Vivanco interacts with students everyday, both on and off campus. “I’ve definitely experienced defiance, disrespect, for myself and my property,” he said. “But I’ve also experienced incredible generosity and connections.” So while there are the students who walk loudly and carelessly by his family at 3:00 a.m., there are also the ones that come for dinner and babysit his children.
Connections are Key
Part of the problem, Vivanco said, is “residents stereotype other residents – often we want to retreat instead of engage.” The process is both continuing and difficult to change. “We’re now at the point where we’re starting to deal with some deeper and newer issues.”
He sees part of the problem as the community that students identify with. As a university with a high percentage of out of state students, many are here for their four years and then they are gone. Students move into dorms as freshman, then into houses or apartments, often unaware of their impact on the downtown setting, or the real people and families behind closed doors. It’s easy to be anonymous and not accountable.
To improve student and community relations, Vivanco thinks the cultural dynamic needs to shift. While residents may believe the problems come from students, the solution will take effort from the residents themselves. Neighbors that have experienced negative situations like Vivanco did often can’t look past them, and continue to create a divide between themselves and students.
Engaging with one another, communicating issues, and increased student involvement within the community can all help in ending the divide, Vivanco believes. The problems can’t be solved overnight, but both communities can take steps to improve the relationships within their neighborhoods, allowing different lifestyles to peacefully coexist.
“Being proactive and reaching out generally works.”