Thursday, April 19, 2007
In this week of soul-searching about our nation’s college students, here’s an interesting story from the neighborhood around Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The city’s zoning board voted this week that a college fraternity must leave the neighborhood, even though it has been on the site for more than 30 years, much of which as a nonconforming use. (The house was vacated for a while as a number of code violations were addressed.)
What’s most interesting to me is that neighbors complained that the house was in effect a “nuisance” of loud parties and drunken students. The matter recalls the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision of Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, which I just discussed with my class. There, an exclusive town on Long Island, N.Y., zoned out group houses; SUNY-Stony Brook was nearby. In an oft-criticized decision, Justice William O. Douglas upheld the town’s decision. I discuss with my class whether the SUNY college students were the victims of “stereotyping” –- reading between the lines, the town probably didn’t want annoying student housing in their community.
Returning to the Baltimore example, is it so clear that it’s good policy to conclude that because some students have been drunken louts in the past, we can assume, through law, that fraternity students will be drunken louts in the future? Is this a kind of stereotyping that is acceptable?