By Remy Ravitzka
How many times have you observed a resident of Schenectady walk across campus, and casually referenced him as a “Doid”? We frequently use this term to label Schenectady residents, yet few of us consider its implications. As a school with its own derogatory term for townies, it is no wonder that Union ranks among the Princeton Review’s top five colleges with the most strained town-gown relations. Our estranged relationship with the citizens of Schenectady is no secret. Within my first term at Union, I was made aware of Schenectady’s seedy reputation as a dilapidated city with shady inhabitants. Fellow students discouraged me from venturing off campus alone, but instead to be accompanied at all times of day. I found this warning less astounding than students’ blatant aversion toward the citizens of Schenectady, who are regarded as little more than poor and uneducated degenerates. We perceive their inhabitation of our college town as a deplorable misfortune, yet we fail to bear in mind that it is our small student population of 2,300 that occupies their city of nearly 67,000 for only nine months each year. Union students are by no means solely responsible for these tensions; we share equal blame in this hostile relationship, but each side also possesses the capacity to repair it. A better understanding of the Schenectady side to this dichotomy is a good start.
Last winter, I enrolled in a course at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) along with 30 residents from the Schenectady and Albany areas. Dialogue with citizens from Schenectady provided me with a better grasp of their perception of Union. Schenectady residents generally recognize the rundown and derelict appearance of their once thriving city, a home to multibillion dollar companies like General Electric and Price Chopper.
They are neither blind to nor unaware of Schenectady’s few notoriously dodgy areas. In contrast, Union presents itself as an esoteric bubble of affluent students, who have no concept of their own privilege, and are indifferent to struggles that exist outside of their fence. The tension both Union students and residents of Schenectady experience is cyclical; Schenectady citizens resent Union’s out-of-touch attitude, and Union students counter this opinion with name-calling and degrading comments, exacerbating outside presumptions about our sense of superiority. So how do we put an end to this vicious cycle?
Despite their seemingly negative attitude toward Union students, Schenectady residents are overwhelmingly receptive to the kindness and respect that all human beings deserve. The residents in my class at SCCC were very open to my questions and concerns, and seemed eager to cultivate a more positive relationship. Both sides must be willing to put in the effort to foster this growth, and there are several routes upon which our own student body can embark. A more open outlook toward our city and its inhabitants is key.
I implore all students to explore Schenectady’s attractions, where you will find more obscure food favorites like Brandywine, Katie O’Byrnes, Ambition and the Sunday Green Market at Proctor’s. This same openness should be applied to the residents of Schenectady; be wary of generalizing non-Union bystanders as “creepy” or “sketchy,” though this is not to say that one should be naïve of questionable streets and people. Always use discretion when approaching unfamiliar territory, but keep in mind the many professors, administrators and friends who call Schenectady their home, and hope for visitors to treat it as such. Most of all, avoid using discriminatory language, and help to abolish the term “Doid” for good. Although we often regard it with facetious nonchalance, it is this kind of language that has preceded some of the world’s greatest tragedies, and there is no place for bigotry (no matter how small) in our quest for peace. Union has been a part of the Schenectady community for over 200 years, and there is no better time to foster this community than now.