We, the students of St. John’s University, wish to raise our voices to respond to the events of the past few months regarding a community issue involving the university and some of the surrounding neighborhood homeowners.
The matter in question is the construction by a private developer of a six-story building (on Henley Road in Jamaica Estates) to be erected by 2009 and leased to the university for the purpose of housing resident students that enroll at the main campus of St. John’s.
In debating this project, some local community leaders and residents have maligned SJU students as “irresponsible and destructible” menaces to the Jamaica Estates community. As an active member of the student body at St. John’s, I, along with my fellow students, feel it is time to set the record straight.
I represent a large group of students at St. John’s who take great pride in their academics and show their concern for the greater community by participating in service-learning initiatives. Some of these initiatives include our annual Service Day where more than 700 of our students volunteer to help neighboring schools and organizations, Walks for the Homeless, work at the St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen and assistance at local Ronald McDonald Houses. These examples show our dedication to uphold the reputation and tradition of a university that we respect.
Yet we have recently read and heard comments, most notably by State Senator Frank Padavan, characterizing ours as a campus filled with rampant cases of drug- and alcohol-related violations. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not saying our campus is free of these problems, which exist at all college campuses. Nevertheless, Padavan continues to reference violations data that is wildly inflated. His misstatements have been brought to his attention but he continues to ignore the facts.
For example, he cites, in his criticisms of St. John’s students in a recent three-year period (2003-05), that there have been more than 800 liquor and drug violations reported by the university to the Jeanne Clery Report (a federally mandated document that annually chronicles all college incidents of this kind). That claim is very misleading when you factor in the more telling number of 503 of those 800 reported cases that were actually charged and referred for disciplinary action by St. John’s own judicial system.
Even more telling is the fact that, when you calculate the percentages of drug and alcohol related “charged-cases” of violations during that period - the results are less than one percent of the total population of more than 16,000 students on the Queens Campus.
Not once during this entire public discussion has a political figure or community leader tried to reach out to any of our student groups for constructive dialogue, in which we would be more than happy to participate. There have been a few protests about the new building, as well as community meetings, television and newspaper interviews - and not once has there been a quote or question that represents the true St. John’s student.
We challenge Padavan to learn about what St. John’s students are really like. He and those community residents who brand us with negative student stereotypes will be surprised at the talented and gifted individuals they will meet, as opposed to what we have been wrongfully portrayed to be.
Lawrence King is the President of the Student Government, Inc. of St. John’s University