OPINION | Hear no evil, see no evil: Tulane’s disconnect from local community is troubling

Lily Mae Lazarus, Views Editor

Protected by stone walls and nestled among the St. Charles Avenue mansions, Tulane University exists as a world of its own. Tulanians live and breathe the reality of the “Tulane Bubble,” where the troubling truths of New Orleans fade away and campus conundrums take precedent. However, by remaining in this imaginary “bubble,” Tulane students fail to fulfill their obligation to the city and the administration falls short on its promises of community service and engagement. 

While it is unquestionable that national and campus issues matter, they should not trump those of the local community. Rather, in a city deeply plagued by poverty, inequality and structural insecurities, students and the administration have a moral duty to advocate for New Orleanians, especially given how much the city offers the university while asking nothing in return. But, here lies the main predicament: given most Tulane students are not Louisiana residents, is it their place to intervene in or address local issues? 

In short, yes, it is. More importantly, it is the university’s place to take a more direct stance on local issues and expand their efforts to better the local community by promoting student engagement in community problems. 

Tulane’s motto, “Non sibi, sed suis,” or “not for one’s self, but for one’s own,” advertises a commitment to enhancing and interacting with the local community. The university claims to do so through community engagement and the Center for Public Service. While these efforts are admirable, they are insufficient. Tulane’s service learning programs are geared toward educating students, rather than to truly give back to the community. Thus, students reap the academic and moral benefits of their supposed community service while the community itself remains virtually unchanged. 

Further, service learning programs only feed the disconnect between Tulane’s position of privilege and the local community. New Orleans natives are highly conscious of how unincorporated Tulane is with the city. This may be, in part, due to the predominantly out-of-state makeup of the student body. It appears, however, the local communities’ past negative experiences with the university and the inefficacy of Tulane’s efforts have done little to integrate students into the greater New Orleans area. Yet, Tulane continues to brand itself as a champion of community service and community engagement. This false advertisement needs correcting. 

To mitigate the university’s hypocrisy, students and the administration must redirect their community engagement efforts towards programs and advocacy meant to support and better Tulane’s local community rather than those for academic enrichment. There is definitely no shortage of loud and engaged students, but they must also look past campus and national issues to use their passion for advocacy in local matters. 

Many Tulane students chose the university after falling in love with New Orleans. Despite this adoration, students are uneducated and uninvolved in local issues. It is only when national issues collide with local realities that Tulane students organize en masse. Specifically, during recent local elections and the 2020 presidential election, many students registered to vote in Louisiana and thus influenced the local community. By voting in Louisiana, rather than their home states, out-of-state students made a commitment to New Orleans that ought to extend past a civic duty.

While participating in elections is a necessary practice, student efforts are needed elsewhere. They owe New Orleans far more than a vote. “New Orleans is among the most welcoming places in the world, a place where diverse cultures are valued and cherished,” Tulane student and native New Orleanian Zachary Shultz explained. “As such, we locals are gracious to outsiders and are willing to grant them great access to our most sacred traditions and rich culture and do so without asking much in return.” 

To repay the New Orleans community for their generosity, students must turn their eyes to the people living only a stone’s throw away from campus. The reality of Tulane students mistreating their community is spoken about at length. It is clear that Tulane students have certain negative impacts on New Orleans. Families and homeowners tolerate loud music, parties and an overall lack of common courtesy as the constant ebb and flow of students rotates through off-campus residences. Although off-campus etiquette needs addressing, there are a plethora of other local issues that require students’ attention.

Meaningful issues in need of student advocacy include public safety, education, economic development, criminal justice, corruption and affordable housing. Repaving the streets of New Orleans to make them safer and more efficient is an incredibly important movement which directly affects student life. Additionally, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, New Orleans has suffered an onslaught of problems which have only exacerbated harsh realities. Following the cancellation of Mardi Gras 2021, the city lost immense revenues from tourism, a major economic necessity for the community. External to tourism, the local New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board continues to send exorbitant bills to local residents in error. On a political front, the new District Attorney Jason Williams is under a federal indictment for tax fraud. These matters constitute only a fraction of the pertinent issues in need of students’ attention. 

Advocating and participating in local dialogues also includes hands-on interaction with the local community. Given that 80% of Tulane alumni leave New Orleans upon graduating, students build a cycle of abuse in which they reap the benefits of the city at the cost of local residents without penance. As such, students should be encouraged to immerse themselves in local organizations and programs to help construct a more positive Tulane narrative. These efforts could take the form of volunteering at the New Orleans Mission, tutoring children at local schools, canvassing for a local political campaign or interning at a local non-profit.  

As members of a community beyond the confines of Tulane’s campus, students must do their part. This does not mean students should focus solely on local issues. It demands that students venture out of the “Tulane Bubble,” confront the realities of New Orleans and use their ability to advocate and educate others to benefit city residents. 

If Tulane hopes to uphold its motto and demonstrate its sacred commitment to service, the administration must encourage students to participate in meaningful community engagement rather than promote performative charity. This cannot happen until both the university and its students bridge the divide between Tulane and the community through long-overdue meaningful interactions.

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