For many University of Dayton students and alumni, there is nostalgia surrounding “the ghetto.” It’s where they met friends. Drank cheap beer. Spent late nights studying.
But while that term elicits fond memories for some, it conjures up negative feelings for others, and the UD administration has for years pushed for a change in this bit of campus vocabulary.
Kwynn Townsend-Riley, a fourth-year UD journalism student, wrote an editorial in the student newspaper in September decrying the name “The Ghetto” as offensive. She says it’s a poor description of where upperclassmen live.
“Ghettos do not consist of fully air-conditioned homes, with washers and dryers. … Ghettos are not adjacent or in a mile radius of family restaurants, grocery stores or movie theaters,” she wrote. “Ghetto was the name used for the area housing the Jews during World War II. Ghetto is the term used now for dilapidated, low income housing, or “projects” housing a minority group. Ghettos are in food deserts …
“Calling the University of Dayton student neighborhood a ‘ghetto’ is simpleminded.”
Kwynn, who grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago, said last week that she’s tired of students using a “dehumanizing word” to describe a neighborhood that’s suppose to be “all about community.”
The university administration and leadership started moving away from the word in the ’90s. Campus brochures and university emails now refer to student housing off-campus as the “student neighborhood.”
Yet for many students, alumni and area residents, the phrase “ghetto” hasn’t gone away. During the school week students communicate on social media about their weekend plans in “the ghetto,” and when students get too rowdy on a party weekend or during the NCAA basketball tournament, the public and media refer to the area by the same name.
“Personally, I have no problem with it. It’s a term that basically everyone I know embraces and uses regularly,” said Jay Fyda, 21-year-old UD political science major who grew up near Pittsburgh. “I know there’s been some pushback recently on campus and I think a lot of it stems from the movement of political correctness that’s been seen at places such as Missouri, Ithaca, Yale, etc.
“Between siblings and cousins, I’ve had six family members attend the university and none of them have really seen this type of pushback. Personally, I think that people who find it derogatory are really reaching when they try to claim it’s offensive. The term is meant to unify is as a community, not divide us.”
The UD Student Government Association hosted a meeting last week about the phrase “the ghetto.”
At the beginning of the discussion, the student moderator took a poll among 92 students in attendance. More than 80 percent said they called the student housing south of campus “the ghetto.”
But some students expressed how the word was offensive. One student at the meeting said she stopped using “the ghetto” term after her aunt — who lives in a poor area — became offended that students living in such a “nice” area would make a joke about other people’s living conditions.
Other students doubted people would quit using the phrase. Some said they didn’t plan to stop — especially given, they said, that it doesn’t mean the same thing as what most people would consider a “ghetto.”
Others said the name makes the university unique.
“People outside the university know our student neighborhood as the ghetto. It differentiates us from other schools,” said Joseph Santello, a 22-year-old marketing major and Illinois native. “I don’t see that changing.”
UD balks at ‘ghetto’
UD interim provost Paul Benson says he doesn’t call the area “the ghetto,” and neither does Dan Curran, UD’s president.
“I think Kwynn’s piece underscored an important issue, and it is one that is not new,” Benson said. “Students and others on campus have raised this issue for quite some time now, which is that the use of ‘ghetto’ for this type of neighborhood is interpreted to many as being disrespectful to those persons who live in neighborhoods called ghettos for no choice of their own.”
In 1994, the UD yearbook reported that the area had been named the “student neighborhood.” Since the ’90s the university, according to interviews with staff and alumni, has moved “further and further” away from using “the ghetto.”
Students told this newspaper that some faculty members correct students if they use the phrase.
Maddi Cooperrider, an 18-year-old from Loudonville, Ohio, and an international business management major, said she only knew the area as “the ghetto” prior starting classes this semester.
“When I started at UD my a teacher told us not to call it the ghetto, and to call it the student neighborhood,” Cooperrider said.
That directive came as a surprise to Cooperrider, whose father is a UD alumnus.
“When I was younger my dad always referenced it as ‘the ghetto.’ I knew it wasn’t like what a ghetto was like, but my dad told me when he went here, it was owned by slum lords,” she said. “It wasn’t owned by UD, so it wasn’t the nicest quality neighborhoods. It wasn’t too dangerous or students wouldn’t have lived there, but it wasn’t like it is today.
“I think of it like Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, where it used to be a pretty sketchy neighborhood, but now it’s nice and a good place to be, but they still call it Hell’s Kitchen. They didn’t just change the name.”
Cooperrrider said she doesn’t use “the ghetto” in public, but does say it around friends.
In the ’60s, UD students started to rent homes in the neighborhood south of campus. By the early ’70s the area was being referred to as “the ghetto,” given that many of the homes were in poor condition.
Over time, the university started buying and fixing up those houses. UD now owns more than 430 residential houses, duplexes and apartment buildings in two student neighborhoods. Most of the homes are equipped with the latest appliances, and look nothing like they did decades ago.
Yet the “ghetto” name has stuck.
Many alumni say that the name is “ingrained” into UD culture and doesn’t need to change.
“When you meet someone from UD, right away they ask where you lived,” said Michele Kilroy, an ‘89 UD graduate who pridefully points out that she use to live on Evanston Avenue.
Kilroy, who lives in Cleveland, hopes students keep calling the area “the ghetto.”
Meanwhile, Jim Wahl, who graduated in 1969, thinks the name needs to go. Wahl, who owns property near campus, said the name gives the area a bad stereotype.
Some alumni aren’t happy the discussion is taking place.
“Whoever wrote that article, claiming UD shouldn’t refer to the student neighborhood as the ghetto, should transfer to Xavier,” Nicholas Shook, a 2010 UD graduate, wrote on Twitter.
The Indianapolis resident told this newspaper the tweet was a joke, but he doesn’t want the name of the neighborhood to change.
“It’s a great place, where everyone is welcome,” Shook said. “It brings back memories — some things I’m not necessarily proud about and won’t tell kids till I’m older. It’s a place where I made great friends. They can rename it, but people would still call it the ghetto.”