Spectator editorial: Walking on Water

Efforts by the city and the university to improve safety on Water Street are admirable, as long as those efforts don’t unfairly characterize students or attack their personal preferences when it comes to how they spend their time.

On Friday night, a group of 38 community and university leaders participated in a “bar walk,” during which they walked along Water Street and entered bars of their choice to observe the night life, according to an article in The Spectator.

The group, which also included plain-clothed police officers, identified safety concerns and suggested some possible solutions, both in a post-walk discussion session and on feedback forms.

Safety concerns included the presence of glass bottles on Water Street, lighting, the Chippewa Riverbank and bar patrons running recklessly across the street.

While participants commented on the excessive drinking on Water Street and how it contributes to creating high-risk situations, they also described bar patrons as polite and upbeat.

Many of the concerns the group identified may be valid, and safety is an issue that all people associated with Water Street should be glad to see addressed.

But as the city and the university work to address such issues, it is important that students aren’t unfairly labeled. While police officers emphasized that their focus is not on students, but on all bar patrons, it’s extremely easy for people to blame students anyway.

City and university officials should remain constantly aware of this dynamic. Local media outlets should also avoid tying students to negative stories about Water Street unless students were directly involved – which police say is rare.

Furthermore, while alcohol education benefits everyone, students are entitled to make their own decisions about drinking.

Keeping Water Street safe is something everyone can agree on. But students’ images and their ability to make personal decisions shouldn’t suffer along the way.