It’s a no secret that there is a certain degree of mistrust between the University of Maryland students living in the neighborhood and other residents – homeowner included.

UMLogoWhile campaigning, I’ve seen some neighbors expressing this concern that the UMD students living in the community may be the cause of not-so-quiet nature of the neighborhood. I’ve met at least a few residents, who went as far as saying students love to party all night in the weekends – and something needs to be done about that.

Other residents aren’t so concerned. Some even acknowledge that “we live in a university town – so some student activities in the neighborhood are probably expected and thus acceptable”.

Students living in the neighborhood have their own concerns too. Their main concerns include a hostile attitude from the residents – the one I’ve just described above. They also think the city should do more for a better rent control – to keep their monthly rental payment low.

On the topic of rents, residents even have their own gripes over their fellow residents. The other day I met a resident who said to me: “the city should make it compulsory for landlords to hire landscaping companies when they rent their houses to students and others. The landlords don’t live in the neighborhood and have no ideas on how their houses are being kept. They only care about the rent checks”. This resident was referring to the abysmal condition of lawns with grasses growing too big – inviting bugs and mosquitoes to the neighborhood.

Years ago, I used to live in a university town, just like ours. The university I went to was another UM – the University of Manchester, UK, where I did my graduate studies. Having lived in a university town for many years, I’ve seen and experienced the kind of atmosphere and culture, we’re currently experiencing here in our neighborhood.

I think the root cause of such concerns from both sides lie in the fact that the students and residents in the neighbors live too far apart; even though they may be next door neighbors. These two groups need to come closer – a lot closer. They need to start talking more to find common solutions that concern them both.

The concerns I just described have nothing to do with the nature of any particular group. The issues such as rent control, noise control, landscaping are very much governed by the city code – these codes don’t discriminate against a particular group – UM students in this case.

The first start to break this relational ice can be the formation of a focus group, with members taken from both sides – students and residents. The members of this focus group can identify the concerns they have – and the city can certainly play a role to mediate such forums and help find solutions.

The UM students living in our neighborhood can be positive forces in building our community. They’ve energies and have the innovative ideas on how to make our neighborhood a better place to live. After all, before they moved to our neighborhood as students, they grew up and lived in another neighborhood, most likely, very similar to ours.

Our students can thus be the partner in our community development – and not necessarily the target of our problems. But to make that happen, we must break the existing barriers between them and our residents.