The recent headlines involving the University of Missouri, its student body, its officers and its football team have me trying to get my arms around it all. Well, as I’m sitting seven time zones away from all that, it’s best I go slowly and start from a long ways away. That said, the first thing that comes to my mind is this: Cities and Towns are two different things. Especially if that town is a ‘college town.’ What I’m trying to say is this: Greater St. Louis, Missouri, with over 2,000,000 people, is much different from Columbia, Missouri, a college town of just 115,000 inhabitants.
Why do I mention this? Because college towns can have an ‘island’ effect on its citizens and its students. I live here in Milan and one of our quarters is called ‘Città Studi.’ That is, city of studies. Yes, it’s on the streets of Milan and it’s a ‘sidewalk university,’ with Milan’s public transportation running through it. But, when you step on the campus, it’s like you have taken leave of Milan and have entered another world, unto its own. I had the same feeling going to Northwestern, right there in my town of Evanston, Illinois … another world altogether.
So, when things like this happen, I’m not sure everyone in a college town is really prepared for what comes next. Yes, of course, big city police forces have their hands full with all sorts of trouble, and we read about that every day. But I would guess those police forces, once they leave the station, know they are going to have their hands full for their entire 8-hour shift. I’m not sure that’s the case in a college town, with a small-town police force and campus security. A series of demonstrations like those we’ve seen on TV is overwhelming for them.
I also think there is the idea that “It can’t happen here.” I was basketball coach at the U. of Delaware, 1966-71, in the town of Newark DE. There were race riots in Wilmington DE, 15 miles east, about 1968 or so. We could see the lights and hear the noise. I remember my own thinking: “That’s happening a long ways away.” That time I was right: it did not reach Newark. But that was a false sense of security, as I’d later learn when I coached the national team in Chile, during the daily riots of the Allende regime. More on this tomorrow.