I am writing to you in response to a column that appeared in your back-to-school issue, Primer. The piece was written by Blair Stenvick and was titled “Welcome to the Neighborhood – Here’s Your Pepper Spray.” I realize that columns are essentially opinion pieces, and therefore do not necessarily require quoted sources to support the points or overarching message raised by the writer. I also realize that opinion pieces reflect the opinions of the writer, and not necessarily the paper in general. However, the fact that such an ignorant, uninformed piece was published — whether opinion piece or not — shocks and even offends me.
After reading the piece and deciding to write this letter, I went through the column highlighting the components I found particularly problematic. When I came to the end, I found that a decent percentage of the page ended up a lurid yellow. As a result I have decided to address the main problems of the piece generally and use some examples, as opposed to dealing with each one specifically.
To begin with, houseless (which is what they actually prefer to be called since most consider Santa Cruz their home) is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of situations, from those who are down on their luck to trust fund babies, who have money and the option of owning a house but who simply reject social expectation and prefer a vagabond lifestyle. It is a problem that the writer is associating behaviors and semblances that she finds menacing with her own subjective and limited perception of what it means to be houseless. She is perpetuating the very ideas she claims to be speaking out against. For example, she uses “sketchy-looking guys in baggy clothing and hoods” as an exemplification of human degradation and danger. How do people in baggy clothing and hoods have anything to do with the houseless? She is describing athletes in warm-ups, non–skinny jean wearing men standing in the cold, or any number of nonthreatening people. There are dangerous people in the world, that is a fact. Many of those people have houses, some of them do not. Assuming certain people are inherently dangerous, simply by looking at them, is naïve at best.
In addition, the column has no logical form. It is a stream of consciousness rant: no research, no information, no premises supporting her position. Again, I appreciate the fact that it is an opinion piece, but it does seem to be arguing for something, namely, that humans are humans and should be considered and respected as such. The sentiment is meaningful to be sure. But it’s a bunch of haphazard sentences (some of which just beam with pride and love for the writer’s own writing and it is apparent) and a couple offensive anecdotes strung together. I think that I would have at least semi-appreciated the column if it had simply been finished with an inquiry about why certain people have certain perceptions that might turn to prejudices; just one thoughtful, introspective, considerate paragraph evaluating the rest of the column. In my opinion, it would have improved the column threefold.
Furthermore, her misuse of terms is really irresponsible. Though it may not be her intention to present certain misconstrued ideas, she often forms parallels between completely unrelated things. For Example, “low income” refers to households whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, as determined by HUD. In Santa Cruz County, this refers to any individual earning $16,840.00 or less. So why does the writer group “homeless” and “low-income” people in her article? Had she taken the time, this information would have taken less than a minute to obtain. But it is not entirely the writer’s fault. Where were her editors? Where were the fact checkers?
I want to make clear that I am neither claiming to be an expert nor houseless myself. I have enjoyed a privileged lifestyle from birth and am thankful every day (I’ve never cursed my “middle-class roots” because I misjudged a situation). I am quite sure that there are large flaws in my thinking on the subject as well, but I fully acknowledge that fact. I do not believe that my opinions on houslessness are entirely responsible or even fully developed and thoughtful. Houselessness is something easy to take for granted while sitting on your couch in your heated apartment. I know nothing of how it feels or what it’s like. Though those are things that I am sure change houseless person to houseless person (something not acknowledged in the column, all houseless people are just lumped together). However, I am also not preaching to my peers about the need to be high-minded; I am not trying to absolve myself of misguided thinking by explaining to everyone why I believe some scruffy people are scary and where I learned to think that way so really it’s not my fault.
In the article the writer asks, “But isn’t a little fear a good thing? Where does being smart and cautious end, and discrimination begin?” I would like to propose that being smart and cautious ends with a lack of information, and discrimination begins with ignorance.
To City on a Hill Editors,
Thank you for your very informative article on bicycle safety that appeared in the Sept. 15 Primer. Your writers touched on numerous concerns when bicycles and motor vehicles have to share the road and offered some very good suggestions for bicycle safety around Santa Cruz.
I wanted to take this opportunity to remind readers that the California Vehicle Code applies to bicycles as well as cars, and University Police will enforce the rules of the road. Bikes need to ride on the right side of the road, stop for stop signs and red lights and use a hand signals when turning.
Additionally, bikes need to be equipped with lighting if riding between dusk and dawn. Many people do not know that bicyclists, like drivers, may not have both ears covered by headphones or ear buds while operating a bicycle. These are all citable offenses and the fines can be steep, especially for the moving violations.
In order to keep the campus community better informed and aware of the resources for bicyclists, the UCSC Police Department will be working with Transportation and Parking Services staff to encourage the campus community to participate in their Fall 2011 Bike Safety events.
For example, events include weekly bicycle maintenance clinics, the October 6 Fall Bike to Work Day, and an October 11 Smooth Cycling: Urban Cycling Skills class. More information about the Bike Safety program can be found at http//:taps.ucsc.edu/bicycleprograms.html.
The UCSC police officers are committed to campus safety, are available 24/7 and can be reached at 831-459-2231 for non-emergency calls, 9-1-1 for emergency calls.
If we can save someone from being involved or injured in a serious accident, then we have done our jobs!
Chief of Police
UCSC Police Department
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