COLUMN: It's the people that make the place

This week's column is going to take a bit of a different turn compared to what I usually do. By time you finish reading this I hope you will take away at least one lesson. That lesson is simply that people define the place in which they live.

When you take a trip somewhere that you've never been before and step out of your vehicle and hear someone yell at you, "kill white people," what goes through your mind? This past weekend a small group of people, including myself, traveled to Northern Illinois University to participate in a resident assistant exchange program. With an exception of a few good people, NIU has some of the most rude and hateful people I have ever met.

Our goal on the trip to NIU was to see how their community advisors compared to our resident assistants at Ball State. As with any exchange program we were hoping to take back some of their ideas and give them some of ours.

We were to arrive Friday evening and spend a few hours getting to know their staff and just have a little fun. When we stepped off the vans, we were greeted with someone yelling out their window "kill white people." Whether or not this comment was directed at us or not, it still made for quite a first impression.

For information purposes I will tell you that our group was mixed with both white and black students. You should also note that demographically NIU has a similar student population as Ball State and is comparable in size.

Anyway, after settling in we all went to the Student Center to go bowling and eat pizza. NIU had several different people who were participating in this exchange program, apparently all of whom had no specific amount of time they were required to spend with us because many of them left after a few minutes.

Obviously bowling on a Friday night is not everybody's idea of a great time, but nonetheless, this was a volunteer program, and NIU was hosting us. One would think they would at least attempt to make us feel welcome.

After bowling we returned to our quarters, which were located in a basement in one of the residence halls. There was no heat in this basement, and I kid you not, the temperature was hovering around 50 degrees in there all night.

At Ball State we are told to walk in groups around campus at night for safety. For the most part that tends to work pretty well, and people feel comfortable walking around campus. How big does that group need to be for you to feel safe? Perhaps you are thinking that as long as at least one other person is with you, that will suffice. Well, at NIU you're really only safe if you're group consists of 10 or more.

A few members of our group decided to go for pizza after coming back from a greek dance. There were three people to be exact. While waiting at Domino's in NIU's equivalent of our Village, a group of eight men ran in and attacked the three Ball State students. I remind you that this was inside the restaurant, and the workers behind the counter stood and did nothing as the eight men pummeled our out-manned and unarmed fellow students.

The men did flee eventually after inflicting only slight injury to two of the Ball State students involved. I say slight because it could have been much worse, but both escaped with only minor bumps and bruises. The Domino's employees were kind enough to call the police after the men fled the scene.

It doesn't end here, I'm afraid. The next day we attended the football game at NIU against Ball State. We sat with a few of the NIU staff whom bought us our tickets in the their student section. This was not a good idea. Hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time we didn't think it was that big of a deal. Sure we knew that we would be taunted, but really we didn't expect to be threatened. At no point in this game did we ever establish a friendly rivalry. We were threatened and eventually security had to escort us from our seats for fear that our safety was in jeopardy.

It would have been easy to lose our tempers and composure with everything that happened to us on this trip, but we didn't. We were representing Ball State, and I say to all of you that we put on our best face by not stooping to their level of barbarism.

Our school has its share of problems, and I don't deny that. However, rest assured that even in our worst state, we are more well-behaved and respectful then the students at NIU. I did take away one positive thing from this trip and that is that I am proud to be a Ball State student.

Write to Justin at jtsyndram@bsu.edu.


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