What we all need to learn about our surroundings

What CWRU is really teaching

Abby Armato

My initial response is to fill this with apologies and excuses for writing what I did—of course the stereotypes of East Cleveland are wrong. The Observer’s columnists, as students who reflect the campus perspective, should be more conscious of their power to either reinforce or ignore, in attempts to not perpetuate, these stereotypes.

To that end, I am sorry to the campus and surrounding community as a whole for writing a comment which “dishonors the East Cleveland community.” In no way was my comment meant to be an attempt to degrade the community and its people. For example, a burrito at Qboda is about $6, and 25 burritos is $150, an explanation of the amount of CaseCash in my account, not the value of a community. However, last week’s letter to the editor made me realize that my comment did dishonor East Cleveland.

As a projection of the school’s community, these stereotypes should not appear in the newspaper because we should not put out into the greater community the misconceptions on our campus. But, whether or not I had written it or the paper had published it, the stereotypes of East Cleveland still exist. Ignoring them in the newspaper is better than reinforcing them, no doubt. But the paper is the perfect forum to openly discuss these misconceptions, especially where they come from and how they can be stopped.

To be completely honest, I know nothing firsthand about Cleveland or its communities. I know only what I have been told by other people. As a high school senior looking at colleges, I was told by various Case Western Reserve University students that I would only really be safe on campus. I was told wandering too far off campus would get me in trouble. I was told going beyond the east side of campus was a bad idea. Google East Cleveland and the majority of hits talk about the danger and crime.

But even broader than that, as an 19-year-old raised in the suburbs and going to live in a foreign city without my parents, I was told to be safe and not travel alone or at night or off campus. Like many first-years, city-living is a new and different experience compared to growing up. Specifically this city; I am sure most of us got a flabbergasted “You’re going to school in Cleveland?!” from a friend or family member, which suggests a negative perspective of the city.

So I entered the CWRU community hesitantly with a pile of pointers which basically said, “Do not leave campus or you will not come back.” Other students added to this idea with negative and nervous comments on Twitter and Facebook about Cleveland and its surrounding areas. Words like “sketchy” and “janky” are thrown around, creating a very biased image of what life in Cleveland is like.

This becomes a joke of sorts. Not because poverty is in any way a laughing matter, but because it’s a commonality near and among us. Us. We who have left home and arrived at a city we know very little about. We who were taught to be nervous in this new city. We whose fears prevent adventuring out and challenging the bombarding stereotypes.

We find comfort in knowing we are all feeling the same anxiety.

Just being aware of what we say to each other and post online is a great start. When comments based in stereotypes have the power to “shame the community as a whole,” more attention needs to be paid to our words, both spoken and printed. Additionally, we need a closer connection between campus and the city that will challenge the misconceptions and stereotypes we hear. An understanding would overcome the fear and nerves with which many students enter CWRU and Cleveland. During orientation week, great examples of building this understanding were activities like CWRU Connects and Discover Cleveland that demystify the city and start to unravel some of its stereotypes. But beyond that, obtaining this understanding requires actively joining a group like Habitat for Humanity or getting on the RTA and experiencing the communities firsthand. If fears and stereotypes are already in place, the latter isn’t very likely.

CWRU informs its students about upcoming events on campus, but what if we received more information about off-campus activities as well? Simple things like upcoming events in the community or ads for restaurants worth traveling to. Of course, it then becomes the student body’s responsibility to take these opportunities and venture off into the city. I haphazardly came across a couple of these events myself which, though I was reluctant, I did attend. While I didn’t feel completely in my comfort zone the whole time, I was able to overcome some of my initial city anxiety and start to challenge the stereotypes I came to CWRU with.

This is not an “us vs. them” situation; this is “us vs. ourselves.” We need to overcome our own misconceptions by having firsthand experiences. These experiences will challenge our misconceptions to create an understanding. Cleared misconceptions will slow the stereotypes, those of the greater Cleveland community and East Cleveland. But it all starts when we openly acknowledge our contribution to problem, whether it’s a passing remark, a post on Facebook or a comment in an opinion piece.

Abby Armato is a first-year student currently majoring in English and anthropology. When she is not freaking out about impending adulthood, she enjoys various strokes of creativity, determination and passion.