GUEST VIEW: Forest Park stereotypes are wrong

By Tobias Knoll
The Scene contributor

Years ago, when I first moved to St. Louis as a teenager, my friends and I would joke that all the interesting places, cool hangouts and fun events seemed to be in St. Louis County. We would hear about something new and exciting going on and – upon inquiring where – get the response “in the county.”

It gave the county a certain mystique and glamour. It made me feel like I was missing out on something as a city dweller.

My thinking began to change in my late teens and early 20s, especially after I received an unusual compliment. I had been attending Forest Park, St. Louis Community College’s most urban campus, which was close to home. But my preconceived notions made me think Meramec was cooler and closer to my demographic.

The compliment came from a Meramec graduate after I mentioned that I would like to go to school on that campus. “Forest Park is more your kind of campus,” he said. “You’re not a fake county person. You’re more real.”

I was a bit confused, but I liked hearing those words. I’m “more real?” It’s true I didn’t believe in being fake or putting on airs. I believe the “true you” always shines through. I guess that’s what my friend meant. (Not to infer that county residents are in any way fake. That’s just the phrase that was presented to me.)

I thought back to the city-county debate and that compliment recently while reading a student’s essay about his bad impression of the city and the Forest Park campus. He is a Meramec student who had come to Forest Park because a class he needed was cancelled on that campus.

The student had been “forced” to come to the city, which the essay described as “crime-ridden.” He implied that the Forest Park campus was full of thugs and gang bangers, just waiting to rob or hurt someone.

It felt good to know that the student’s preconceived notions about the city campus were untrue. Forest Park is generally a nice place, where people can study, learn and feel comfortable.

Yes, crimes have happened and will continue to take place, but many people are shocked to find out that Forest Park is statistically safer than most ofthe other St. Louis Community College campuses.

I searched the STLCC website for crime statistics, but the reported numbers seemed a bit low. Maybe crimes don’t make it into official, year-end reports. Or maybe the numbers are misreported or lowered to keep visitation and enrollment up. Whatever the case, I believe that the Forest Park campus is a safe, friendly learning environment.

Crimes are always going to occur in both the city and county. Avoiding it is all about street smarts and being aware and careful to not leave valuables exposed and inviting to criminals.

My understanding is that thefts and assaults are the biggest crime threats at Forest Park. But they seem relatively minor and petty compared to some of the fights, protests and assaults on other community college campuses that are reported on the news or publicized on the Internet.

The point here is not to bash the county in any way. I like to think of all of the STLCC campuses as safe, inviting and comfortable places, where students can work peacefully together to achieve all of their educational dreams.

What I want to stress is that just because Forest Park is a more urban campus, that doesn’t make it unsafe or full of criminals. A parallel idea is in the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Before simply believing negative stereotypes expressed about the Forest Park campus or any unfamiliar areas in the city, face that little hint of fear and explore the unknown. You may make some interesting and pleasant discoveries.