Aaron Wilensky's Chapter

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There Goes the Neighborhood: How Our Attitudes Towards Town Affect the Experience We Have at Lehigh

What We Have Here…

The Southside has seen its share of boom and bust and in many ways is trying to redefine itself as a neighborhood as Lehigh tries to improve its standing among the nation’s universities. Since the closing of Bethlehem Steel, the city of Bethlehem has worked hard to draw in high tech industry and has attempted to create jobs, as evidenced by the recent opening of the Sands Casino. The neighborhood is dynamic and open to change and is going through what looks to be a very positive transition.
Having, and in the case of some groups on campus, encouraging, negative sentiment among the students towards the Southside is counterproductive in Lehigh’s efforts to connect with the local community and, ultimately, share in the prosperity of a revitalized Southside. Much like the abuse that smoking and binge drinking take on the human body, negative actions and attitudes towards the local community will only result in negative consequences for our University. The hangover that our school will suffer in this case is further resentment from the local community and backlash from its members. Should to continue to show disdain for the local community, we will see an even more combative Bethlehem Police Department on Saturday nights, as they patrol streets close to Lehigh, which are not technically in the LUPD jurisdiction. This was seen by recent patrols by BPD right off campus during the night of the Lehigh-Lafayette game.
From my observations and inquiry, the citizens of Bethlehem show some antipathy towards Lehigh students, which in many respects is justified. Lehigh students’ attitudes toward the city and Southside especially, is nothing to be proud of. How can they be expected to show us respect when students stagger down local streets every Friday and Saturday night, vomiting, vandalizing and causing a ruckus? It is unfair to the local populace which is trying so hard to rejuvenate their neighborhood. Certainly one thing the Southside residents would want to see is the elimination of drunken students milling about their neighborhood.
As a university, Lehigh will have natural tension with Southside, as any university in or near a city will. Temple University in Philadelphia, for example, has struggled for years to integrate itself into a neighborhood that is suspicious of the school’s expansion and what it means for their neighborhood. Demographic differences between Lehigh and Southside generate some strain; Lehigh has a predominately white, affluent student body and the Southside is a mixture of middle and lower class minorities, the elderly, and other diverse groups. There is going to be tension when people, like Lehigh students, are removed from where they have spent their entire lives and transplanted into new environs complete with new types of people, cultures and in the case of many first year students, a newfound freedom. Lehigh is caught in a bind, mainly not of its own making. However, if Lehigh prefers to be closed off from the community or if Lehigh decides to expand further into the community, there will only continue to be tension.
The best solution for Lehigh is an attitude adjustment. Students need to end their suspicions in order to have students interact with it and help “partner in the renaissance of the local community”. Neither the university nor the local community is going to go away any time soon (as we have a vested interest in seeing the university succeed, we must certainly hope that it is going to be around for a while). Lehigh cannot accomplish its goal of becoming a world class university if it has continuing tension with the local community. It would certainly be a feather in Lehigh’s cap if we worked to create a good partnership with the Southside.
Students have a poor opinion of Southside and this attitude hurts Lehigh as much as it hurts the Southside. There will continue to be suspicion and misunderstanding of Lehigh in the local community if Lehigh students do not venture into the Southside. If Lehigh students and the residents of Southside were to identify themselves as being part of a common community, the feeling of insecurity that Lehigh students feel will be lessened and perhaps, crime will even decrease as people with a strong sense of community tend not to want to disrupt it with crime, vandalism etc. This has already been proven in Lehigh’s residence halls; residence halls with a strong sense of community will take an active stand against vandalism and disruptive behavior and be to some extent self-policing. This is the relationship that Lehigh should strive to have with the Southside.

Who is at fault for the tension between Southside and Lehigh?

There have been mistakes made by both sides as tensions mounted between the University and the Southside. While it is tempting for Lehigh students to place the blame on the community for not being what Lehigh students want, we must look inward to see just how much of this tension was of our own doing. From the fence that once surrounded Lehigh to the discouraging of students from venturing into Southside, the university made many missteps that have done more harm to the relationship our school has with the city. This present administration, headed by President Alice Gast, has been the most forward thinking of all Lehigh’s presidents to date in terms of dealing with Southside.
Lehigh has had a tradition of reclusiveness in the past from the local community. Many previous presidents shied away from Southside in the belief that it was dirty and dangerous. In other times and currently, the wealthy students who attended Lehigh were often at odds with the blue-collar, industrial workers of the Southside. Misunderstanding created a social divide between Lehigh and the residents of Southside. Tension and hard feelings continued and in some respects still do among some of the students and even some faculty. Old habits die hard at a university that values tradition.
When Asa Packer founded Lehigh University, our school had fewer than 60 students in its first class. Asa Packer was an industrialist through and through (he named Lehigh after the railroad that once ran to Bethlehem and throughout the Lehigh Valley). Asa Packer did not shy away from his early blue collar life; he came from his roots as a carpenter’s apprentice to start his own shipping company and eventually went on to found (a tuition free at the time) Lehigh University.
Lehigh has resisted change in the past, which makes the slow move away from an atmosphere of strain with the Southside unsurprising. Lehigh, despite being founded in 1865, did not begin to accept women until 1971 and we did not have our first woman president until 2006. Men still outnumber women in our university in fairly large numbers. Lehigh also has a tradition of less than gentlemanly attitudes towards women. The Clery Act was passed as a result of the horrible rape and murder of Jeanne Clery in 1986. It brought to light the underreporting of crimes, especially violent crimes such as rape and murder, on college campuses. It is a sad fact that Lehigh had to pioneer the “Blue Light” system for college campuses because of the history of sexual assaults on our campus, many of them committed by other Lehigh students.
Lehigh has fought for years to remain closed off from a community of hard working people. While not all (in fact most are not) Lehigh students are bigots or rapists, it is a select moneyed few alumni, the same ones who threaten to stop giving to Lehigh if things change, who have held back our University from becoming more progressive and have contributed to an atmosphere of backwardness at our university, a tradition that is carried on by the legacy students who attend Lehigh. While money is so often the focus of Lehigh and its trustees, there are other intrinsic values associated with a University that go beyond the realm of a donation to help the endowment. One sad fact about Lehigh is how many stories people tell that start with the words “Well, I was drunk…” or “We got loaded and decided that this was a good idea…” Lehigh students miss out on a whole world of exploration and experience beyond the parties and drug use also associated with a college campus. Lehigh students have lacked a sense of place for the city that the university is a part of for many years and with the tradition of avoidance or disdain for the Southside, this tradition has been passed down from Lehigh alum to Lehigh legacy.
Lehigh somehow forgot the industrial, entrepreneurial spirit and hard work that our school was founded on. The idea of a good time at Lehigh has changed to a mostly alcohol fueled, no holds barred, blackout fest with no regard for what college, and in the case of fraternity parties, what the Greek System should really be about. We should not be proud of the fact that we are rated highly in the statistics as a party school, nor should we promote a school spirit based solely on alcoholism or drug use with shirts that say “Lehigh Alcoholics” or “Constant Lehigh (say it quickly if you don’t get the ‘humor’)”. This is not what we should remember college by and it will take a momentous shift, one that is actually starting to happen, to become a university that is more than just a one-dimensional four year long keg-stand.
This party atmosphere spills off campus into Southside. The residents truly resent the fact that many homes in the streets close to Lehigh are nothing but party dens owned in some way or another by Lehigh’s Greek houses or rented by students who only wish to party off campus. The residents of Southside rightfully see these houses as a disruption to their community. They are noisy and their parties spill into the streets as students stagger about, urinate and get into fights. They cannot even get any salvation by calling the police because oftentimes it is the LUPD that responds and merely gives the students a slap on the wrist. Thus, students are undeterred from being a further disruption to the community. While not all houses rented by Lehigh students turn into this kind of problem, the houses that do put on a bad face for Lehigh and its students. With these houses as the most vocal representation of Lehigh tension is inevitable.

What has changed to cause the current easing of tensions?

Many things have changed since Lehigh has turned a cold shoulder towards the local community starting from the beginning of the 20th century. The first thing that happened was the bankruptcy of Bethlehem Steel and the closing of its main plant in the Southside. Since the 1990’s, the demographic makeup of the Southside has changed; the neighborhood has blossomed along with the rest of the Lehigh Valley. However, Lehigh has also changed; through its changing attitudes and policies, our university has tried to undo decades of strain of mostly our own making towards the local community.
Lehigh has much to gain by fostering a positive relationship with Bethlehem. For one, Lehigh may be able to gain wider latitude in its plans for redevelopment here on campus. The Bethlehem Department of Building Code Enforcement will be more lenient in granting the University permits to construct buildings or upgrade infrastructure if there was less suspicion or anger directed towards the University. As understanding and dialogue increases between the citizens of Bethlehem and Lehigh students, we may see a dip in crime, muggings in particular, directed towards students.
There are social benefits to a better relationship with Southside. As students venture into the neighborhood, they are exposed to new cultures and people. They come into contact with things that they have never seen and it is something new and exciting. They grow to love the town their university is adjacent to. Again, a sense of place can only be beneficial for everyone; people are much less likely to harm each other if they have a sense of caring for the place they live in or the people they interact with. This may seem farsighted and overly idealistic, but if we do dream big, we can create a place worth protecting and making better, instead of just spending four years at Lehigh without ever experiencing the stuffed French toast at Blue Sky Café.

Southside Bethlehem

Southside has changed dramatically in the past decade and has started to implement its own strategic vision, which was laid out in June 2001. The Southside Master Plan, as the city of Bethlehem called it, was designed with an eye towards all aspects of Southside and strives to make the neighborhood a great place to live. Southside has a lot going for it and many people know it. From the features of the land and cityscapes to the number of historical buildings and potential business sites, Southside can and is becoming one of the best places to be in the region.
Through a number of public policies, including the designation of Southside as a Keystone Innovation Zone, a program designed to attract high tech industry to an area, there have been a number of new businesses created and more continue to come to the area near our campus. This has included a number of new restaurants and stores which directly target Lehigh students. This attracts even more stores to the area, including art galleries and other cultural spots to the neighborhood.
The city has also started to make Southside more aesthetically pleasing. By bringing in experts like Jeff Speck (a new-urbanist movement expert) to give suggestions about proper city planning, the city of Bethlehem has been taking an active role in shaping Southside into an attractive area for investment and for people to live in. One new aspect being brought to the city of Bethlehem as a whole and Southside more specifically, is the concept of “walkabiltiy,” a New Urbanist term which means exactly as its name implies. Speck and others like him postulate that people want to live in areas that they can walk in. In order for a neighborhood to be considered “walkable,” it must make the pedestrians feel safe, the walk must be interesting and enjoyable and there must be a place for people to actually walk to, such as a business or an office. The safety factor was accomplished in several ways. One way was to encourage on street parking, such as parallel parking, which creates a solid metal barrier between the pedestrians and traffic. Speck and others noted that people drove very quickly on roads throughout Bethlehem, a situation that creates a dangerous walk for pedestrian. Thus, the second method of creating a safe walking environment was to create fixed objects to physically block the pedestrians; in this case trees and lampposts. Lampposts also had the added benefit of lighting the street at night to deter would-be thieves and other criminal activity.
In addition to safety, the walk needs to be interesting. People will not embark on a walk without things to see. The city of Bethlehem responded with a program to target this problem, which is especially prevalent in the warehouse districts four blocks north off of Lehigh’s campus. The city’s economic development corporation (BEDC) has created a façade program to entice businesses in certain areas of the city to revitalize their storefronts and exteriors. The BEDC provides low interest loans to businesses looking to spruce up their storefronts. BEDC also provides tax incentives to new business owners who rehabilitate or massively renovate their businesses to make them more attractive and thus more viable.
Bethlehem also started a program to make Southside a literally brighter place to live. As stated before, lampposts were a big addition to the neighborhood, which has allowed for nightlife to become possible in Southside. As Southside changed from being a company town to a more eclectic neighborhood, the demands of the local community have changed and they are now more in line with what Lehigh students have sought for a long time. With the evaporation of a big employer in the city, Bethlehem decided to make the city as a whole and Southside in particular more attractive to investment and small businesses looking to make a start. By making the streets well lit, the city of Bethlehem encouraged more nightlife in Southside. People naturally flock to where there is light at night and a well-lit city can be a prosperous one (as any SimCity game will tell you). The addition of lights and an increased number of people in the area at night adds to the sense of community as people get out and get to know each other. The program also increases safety in the community. People are less likely to commit crimes in well lit areas and with the addition of more people milling about an area, are even less likely to pick someone to be a target in the area.
This program has paid off as more shops, restaurants and other positive investment has been attracted to Southside and Bethlehem in general. Crime rates have gone down and stores have started to keep later hours than before. People are less afraid to be walking about the neighborhood and this has translated into them spending more time and money in the local community. This is a very positive step to get Lehigh students into Southside because less fear is always a good thing, especially in a retail environment. This program has removed much of the trepidation associated with walking dark streets alone and encourages Lehigh students to engage in a developing nightlife scene in Southside beyond off campus parties hosted by other Lehigh students.

Lehigh University

Lehigh’s recent presidents have been the driving force behind change in the attitude towards the Southside. Starting in the early 1990’s with Peter Litkins’ strategic vision for Lehigh with the building of Campus Square, a veritable town square for the Southside, was made possible and paid for under his administration. He also enabled the building of Zoellner Arts Center and Rauch Business Center, again making moves to become more open and friendly towards the local community. He is responsible for making sure that Lehigh no longer had its back turned towards the local community with Fairchild-Martindale Library and Maginnes. While Lewis removed the fence around Lehigh, it was Litkins who ultimately started to face the Southside and begin to embrace it as an area worth embracing. The STAR (Students That Are Ready) program was also started under Litkins’ tenure in 1991. This program is a way for Lehigh to connect with the Southside on a personal and physical level by having Lehigh students tutor local students. The program aims to develop underprivileged students “intellectually, socially, spiritually, and emotionally in order that they will become productive citizens in our society.” This program is truly altruistic; it has in its core principles that all children can learn and will if given the chance. It is just one way Lehigh opened up to the Southside.
Gregory Farrington was the next president of significance in Lehigh’s attempts to open towards the Southside (Sorry William C. Hittinger, less than a year as president is not enough time to do much). Farrington cooperated with the city of Bethlehem to attract further investment in the area, especially in the realm of high-tech industries and services through the creation of a Keystone Innovation Zone. Under his guidance, Farrington made Lehigh a partner in the development of the local economy instead of a separate entity. A mainstay of the Keystone Innovation Zone is the inclusion of universities in local economic growth and Farrington volunteered Lehigh to be Bethlehem’s partner in the endeavor. His joint venture with the state government and the local governments near Lehigh, in particular Bethlehem, helped propel the area out of the turmoil left by the downfall of Bethlehem Steel. Farrington really understood the benefits of working with the city and state governments to bring investment to the area. As Lehigh has a lot of technology and science based graduates, an expansion in the technology sector of the Lehigh Valley makes Lehigh more attractive to prospective students looking to study in those fields. With high tech industry in the area, students looking for jobs after college or co-ops and internships during college will be more likely to find them. With Lehigh as a major benefactor of innovation and technology, those companies will also be more likely to hire graduates and current Lehigh students, making the situation win-win for all parties involved. In addition, working with the local community has the added benefit of making operations here at Lehigh much easier and streamlined with the local government. A more cooperative university can gain favor with city officials while an uncooperative one will incur their rancor.
Alice Gast, in her tenure as Lehigh’s current president is going even further to improve relations with the Southside. By having an eye towards the local community and wanting to “partner in [its] renaissance,” Dr. Gast is the first (besides maybe Farrington’s late years) president to officially warm to the Southside. The effect of our new president has been immediate and positive. Lehigh now has a presence on Bethlehem’s steering committee for the Southside in Bradley Askins (also her husband, which shows her family’s commitment as well to the neighborhood), an accomplished and respected engineering professor.
Gast has recognized the importance of working with Southside and has started on a plan to get students and professors physically into the neighborhood. For example, during their orientation to Lehigh in August, new first year students are encouraged to go on a scavenger hunt in the Southside for various stores and landmarks. The scavenger hunt, run through the Office of the First Year Experience, takes students throughout the neighborhood and allows them to learn about the culture and history in the area, along with give them ideas of things to do off-campus instead of going to parties. President Gast has also encouraged many community service projects within the Southside to have Lehigh students reach out to the local community. These are all very positive steps towards undoing the image of a simply elite and high and mighty Lehigh and making it into an image that represents a Lehigh trying to mold students into good citizens and people ready to make the world a better place (not to sound too idealistic).
Lehigh’s housing policies have also had unintended consequences for relations with the Southside. Many Lehigh students, mostly upperclassmen, have chosen to live off campus, directly in the Southside. While some of these houses have turned into off campus party houses and a disruption to the community, most off campus residences have had the effect of exposing Lehigh students to the Southside. In other words, Lehigh’s lack of a guarantee of on-campus housing for students has actually brought them to the local neighborhood. This has been a very positive thing for relations with the area and is something that should be encouraged for several reasons.
Students living off campus learn personal responsibility that they would miss in a residence hall. Maintaining a house, taking out the garbage and being responsible for bills and other expenses thrust the real world on students who may have otherwise lived a sheltered life. Having a house and living in a neighborhood like Southside makes one respect the area and develops a sense of place as the students learn to love what the neighborhood gives them. They are enriched by their experiences in deeply personal ways by living off campus. By being removed from the university grounds, off-campus dwellers come to learn the dynamics of the local community; the interpersonal politics of living in a city neighborhood is a life experience that a class in college cannot teach you. Students living off campus may come to resent, like the local residents, drunken students staggering about their street when they are trying to sleep or have an important test the next day and are trying to study. The students living off campus come to learn the dynamics of the neighborhood and gain great personal experience by this, which makes the college experience entirely better. As these students show more respect for the community, they act as positive agents for our university; they help show that the students can be more than just rambunctious party animals and good citizens in even a temporary home. (Sense of Place Revisions)
Lehigh made great strides in recent decades to overcome the long history of tension towards the Southside. As Bethlehem changed, Lehigh changed along with it and has become a more progressive University because of it. The actions of recent presidential administrations have opened our school towards the neighborhood which has lowered resentment and fostered an atmosphere of understanding. Lehigh has helped lead the charge towards modernization of the Lehigh Valley and Bethlehem in the wake of the loss of Bethlehem Steel and has begun to foster economic activity in the area that did not exist before. In addition, by having a respectful off campus presence in the Southside, Lehigh students have developed a love for Bethlehem and act as positive ambassadors for our institution. A university can be a great thing for the city it is part of. Until recently, Lehigh has been a neutral actor at best and completely ignorant towards the city at worst. There is a real chance that our institution can break the habit of hostility towards the Southside for good and make Lehigh the agent of good and effective citizenship its educational mission suggests.
What is there to do in Southside?
Lehigh finds itself in a neighborhood of great historical importance to our country and to Pennsylvania. The Southside has a rich history dating back to the colonial era of the United States and has been a kind of microcosm of our country for its entire existence. Southside and Bethlehem, like our nation, has gone from being a colonial, immigrant center, transitioning to a heavy, dirty industrial hub and right now is in the process of becoming a service economy with light, high tech industries. Southside is at a crossroads in its history, one that is ready to be experienced by the students, faculty and staff at Lehigh University. After 1995, when Bethlehem Steel closed its main plant in Southside, the neighborhood has struggled to reinvent itself and has strived to adapt to the rapidly changing times and cope with the hole that the company left behind.
The community our university is part of is home to a diversity of cultures and is full of opportunities for positive interaction. Aside from places like the local Pantry 1 or Lehigh Pizza, there are a fair amount of restaurants in the Southside. Taking a walk down Fourth Street, just off of Lehigh’s campus, one runs into at least ten restaurants within a few blocks. All of these places are geared to serve Lehigh University students as well as the citizens of Southside. From Blue Sky Café to General Zapata’s, all along Fourth Street, there is very little reason why a Lehigh student would not want to go into Southside to eat, especially as many students complain about the dining halls on campus. These restaurants offer salvation from the ordinary food served at Lehigh. By simply taking a walk around the Southside, Lehigh students are afforded a wide range of foods to satisfy any craving. There is no reason why Lehigh students should complain that the local fare is unacceptable or unvaried. With GoldPlus, the debit system for Lehigh students, students need not even cash to local shops. With its nearly universal acceptance at Southside shops, it is easy and convenient for Lehigh students to patronize local restaurants. The local restaurants are there to serve the needs of Lehigh students and the local community. They recognize the need to cater to the college appetite and the needs of the people who actually live in Southside. There is no reason not to use them and the negative outlook that Lehigh students tend to have towards the Southside in this regard is unjustified.
There is also a local supermarket, which also accepts GoldPlus, to serve Lehigh students who choose to cook on their own or who want to buy snacks for their dorm room called Ahart’s. While it is a smaller supermarket, it has adapted to be a neighborhood supermarket and a business to serve college students. There is no need to go across the Lehigh River to Wegman’s or other supermarkets when the prices at Ahart’s are just as good (if not better. Again, the infrastructure and services are in place to give Lehigh students what they want at a reasonable price.
The Southside is often accused of being an uncultured wasteland, which in the minds of some Lehigh students, makes it a place not worthy of attention. Nothing could be further from the truth in this instance. The prime example of culture in the Southside is the Banana Factory, which many professors in the College of Arts and Sciences actually helped develop and create. The Banana Factory is the cultural and arts center of Bethlehem and Southside and promotes the arts in the local community. The Banana Factory runs many programs designed to stimulate local culture and highlight local artists. The program B-Smart, run by the center, works with the Bethlehem School District’s ASPIRE Program. The ASPIRE (After-School Partnership for Instruction, Recreation, and Enrichment) program, another example of the culture to be found in Southside and Bethlehem at large, works with the city’s youth to enrich their cultural background and build “resiliency” with underprivileged youth in the city. Among other things, the program continues education outside of the classroom in fields that are of interest to elementary and middle school students. What B-Smart does in cooperation with the Banana Factory, is take low income, disadvantaged youth from Broughal and Northeast middle schools, in Southside, first receive one hour of academic intervention at their school and then are taken to the Banana Factory where they choose from five different classes daily. B-Smart offers an integrated arts curriculum five days per week for a total of twenty-six weeks of programming throughout the school year and summer. At the program, the students take classes in the traditional arts, things such as pottery, painting and drawing. This lets the students build their creative skills and give them an outlet rather than just go home to an empty house or be put into other negative situations.
On the first Friday of every month, restaurants and galleries open their doors for public exhibition. On these “First Fridays”, local galleries have live bands playing, wine and cheese tastings and just about everything one can think of to make Southside artsy-smartsy, a quality many at Lehigh accuse Southside of lacking. These events usually draw many people from the local community and some from Lehigh, but it is a little known opportunity for Lehigh students to explore Southside Bethlehem. With live performances by local bands and the chance to get to see great local art, First Fridays are the thing to do that night instead of going to off campus parties and Frat keggers. It is inexplicable why Lehigh would not openly encourage Lehigh students to go to First Fridays and widely promote it. Lehigh students would do well to develop a sense of place outside of Lehigh’s campus and experiencing local culture is a great way to do this.
Southside also has a wide array of shopping to meet the needs of Lehigh’s students, especially those who demand higher end clothing and goods. With today’s focus on organic products and “going green”, there is even a store near Lehigh that specializes in organic clothing. Clothesline Organics bills itself as the Lehigh Valley’s “eco boutique” and it is located two blocks off of campus on Third Street. For the athlete at Lehigh (who happens to be a woman) there is a store for them too. Bliss is the store for people looking for the latest in sportswear. As Lehigh students like to wear the latest in designer fashions, they need look no further than one block off campus to Loose Threads Boutique. This store specializes in designer brand names that are familiar to the fashion-savvy. There is no reason to fight the traffic to get to the mall to do clothes shopping.
Southside has everything that Lehigh students need. There is a florist close to campus which allows Lehigh students to buy flowers for that special someone. There are many stores close to campus that offer “eclectic” artwork for. There is a new store called Monsoon Art Galleries that specializes in art and jewelry from artists such as Kathy Bransfield and Christopher Marley. While Lehigh students may not buy this kind of artwork, stores like this help portray an avant-garde Bethlehem that is much different from the kind of criminal activity often portrayed in the school newspaper. Even Lehigh’s art galleries are nothing to sneeze at. They quite often feature quality local artists and more well known artists.
One can satisfy the consumer demand of Lehigh students just by looking right to Southside Bethlehem. Storekeepers are constantly adapting to the changing demands of the college consumers found at Lehigh, they ought to be given credit for their hard work in providing quality goods to both Lehigh and the local community. With high end boutiques establishing themselves in the neighborhood, there is obviously a demand coming from somewhere. Given the seasonal nature of retail and the constraints of the academic calendar on retailers in Southside, there is an indigenous demand for these goods, indicating that the up-and-coming Southside will be an economic powerhouse to be reckoned with; one that the University and its students cannot afford to anger or ignore as it has done in the past. The time has come for Lehigh students to reevaluate the Southside and consider it as an alternative to big box chains that they can patronize at home, wherever home may be.
Beyond the pale of shopping, there are actually things to take part in and activities in Southside, despite many thoughts to the contrary. At any time of the year, Lehigh students can go ice skating at Steel Ice on Second Street. There are constant art exhibitions at the Banana Factory to satisfy the cultural yearnings of Lehigh students. For those of us here over the summer and on New Year’s, nothing is better than watching the fireworks from the Fahy-New Street Bridge. At Christmastime, one can experience just why Bethlehem is called the “Christmas City” by admiring the various Christmas decorations throughout town. On warmer days and in the fall, students can go to the community garden on Third Street and wind their way through the maze there. This is just a small sampling of a neighborhood with so much to offer in it and it is a shame that Lehigh students and their families miss out on it. With the negative portrayals of Southside in the school newspaper, these are often elements of the neighborhood that go unnoticed and underappreciated. With such a vibrant community so close to our university, it is a wonder that Lehigh has not started to encourage students to visit the Southside sooner. This type of action benefits the university, its students and the people who live in the community that we call home.

What more can be done to attract Lehigh students to interact with the Southside?

Even though Lehigh has discouraged people in the past from venturing into Southside with great ease, it is entirely possible to encourage people to do the opposite. Times have changed in our country, at our university and in the Southside. Universities are increasingly looked to as progressive agents by society and Lehigh must adapt to the changing times as Southside has. The university can either stand alone and separated from an increasingly forward-looking and dynamic community and perhaps disappear into irrelevance or we can partner “in the renaissance in the local community” and become an agent of change and prosperity for the Southside and the greater Lehigh Valley. Lehigh has come a long way from the fenced off bastion of higher education that it used to be. However, more must be done if Lehigh is to truly become the world class university that it wishes to be. There are things that the Lehigh administration can do to galvanize support from the students in any endeavor to reach out to Southside. Generally students will follow their university leaders, as they have done in the past with a negative spirit towards the local community. There is no reason why Lehigh students cannot be rallied to the Southside. All that is needed is a push to get them going and there are some simple steps to have that happen.
An attitude adjustment is needed.
College is a time for experimentation and exploration; students grow (or at least are supposed to) from being immature high school students into responsible adults and citizens. Lehigh’s educational mission is and always should be to mold young minds into the future leaders of our society. While some questionable activity occurs with the majority of college students, bad behavior seems to be a rampant problem at our university. When 15% of a college campus is cited for alcohol related offences, there is a major problem with the culture of that college or university. However, that is the reality at our university and the problem goes far deeper than that. The 15% is just the people who are either caught staggering down the hill, being raucous in public, publicly urinating, vomiting in the residence halls at 2AM or being generally disruptive. The majority of the problem goes unreported or undocumented. While Lehigh’s code of conduct states that two alcohol offences is an automatic two semester suspension, that is not enough to deter over half the campus packing the frat houses up the hill on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (plus holidays) for alcohol fueled parties that usually end with someone being written up by a Gryphon (Lehigh’s nickname for Residential Advisor) when the students return back for the night. It is little wonder the Southside has regarded Lehigh with some suspicion.
While Lehigh is highly ranked by newspapers and rating agencies, it is also Playboy’s number one private partying school. It is a sad fact that our university places higher in this ranking than in US News and World Reports, for example. Lehigh is a party school and among students looking to apply to colleges, this is one of the first facts that pops into their minds when they go through the process of selecting colleges to attend.
The rules in the university are quite clear but generally unenforced. Despite its officially proclaimed zero tolerance stance towards drug use and underage drinking, the university and its agent, the LUPD, generally do very little to actually deter people from partying, or at least from getting out of hand. Requiring fraternities to use clear “Solo” cups instead of red ones during parties does absolutely nothing to stop partying and creates the same problems as before. Threatening the use of ping pong balls as a justification for raiding a fraternity does not stop the noble college sport of Beer Pong or Beirut (If it were an Olympic sport, some people at Lehigh would bring home the gold). The university can adopt all the half-hearted policies it wants to cut down on behavior that it officially condemns but tacitly allows, but it will not stop the behavior.
We should sort out our priorities as an institution. Lehigh should encourage its students to do more than just drink or play Beirut on the weekends. The local community has so much to offer to Lehigh students and with more Lehigh students going into Southside, more attractions will surely arise. If we lessen the propensity to party, students will be more likely to do something constructive with their time in the local neighborhood. However, we need to change the attitude of the students if we are going to have this happen. Partying, drinking and drug use should be discouraged as an outlet for whatever reason students do it. It should be replaced with something more constructive for the students and the community instead of the self destructive behavior that usually occurs on the weekends and holidays. It is a waste of money if students pick a university solely on ability to party, as many Lehigh students do, instead of what is truly important; academics. The university cannot stand by as its rankings in Playboy go up while its rankings for its accounting department drop 50 places.
Lehigh has the infrastructure and bureaucracy in place to do this already. While the only way to actually end all party school elements is to declare Lehigh a dry campus, the LUPD can do more than simply stand back and let keggers and parties happen and sometimes spill into the streets, creating hazards for the people involved. The university has a large police force that has a warped mission. For example, when a student is cited for underage drinking and admits to drinking at a fraternity, the LUPD is supposed to follow up with an investigation on that fraternity under Pennsylvania’s Host Liquor Law. Furthermore, a fraternity or other campus group is supposed to be called in front of the University Committee on Discipline (UCOD) for a hearing on the matter that could end up with a fraternity’s or campus group’s charter being revoked. This however, rarely happens. Lehigh can be tough on drug use and the overall party school mentality if it chooses to be that way, but sadly, our university adheres to backward traditions.
Interact more with Southside on an official basis.
If we are going to have students interact with the Southside more, then we need Lehigh to officially have Lehigh have functions in the Southside and we need to have people from the community interact with Lehigh’s campus. The University can engage the professors and the students in this endeavor and physically have events and functions in the Southside, which will do more to expose students to the neighborhood than was possible before. With people and groups from the local community having meetings on Lehigh’s campus, our school can create a physical connection with the people of Southside.
One way to encourage students to go into Southside is to enlist the help of the Lehigh faculty. One method that has been tried for some classes with great success is holding smaller or seminar classes in off campus locales such as the Hard Bean Café or La Lupita, which are just off campus on Third and Fourth Streets, respectively. They also work well for informal professor meetings or other functions. Lehigh professors often frequent off campus eateries, there is no reason why Lehigh students should not do the same. These types of “excursions” with classes can do wonders to encourage Lehigh students to think differently about Southside and allow them to see the value of off campus establishments. This method of “forcing” students into Southside by having classes or meetings off campus is beneficial for the restaurants in that they get foot traffic and can entice customers for the future if they do not partake at class time and it benefits Lehigh’s community relations by showing that our university takes an active interest and promotes the local community.
Lehigh has already started the process of acclimating first year students to the neighborhood with scavenger hunts to see local businesses and the Southside. However, it would be a great idea for the University to hold off campus events on weekends and at nights. This would provide a constructive outlet for students looking to do something on the weekends as opposed to partying like normal. Campus groups often hold off campus events but the University itself does not hold very many official gatherings. These types of gatherings like dances or other fun events just off campus would highlight a Southside that is to be respected by students and that has a lot to offer them.
Another suggestion for having interactions with local businesses is to arrange with Sodexho to have local restaurants present dishes for a night in the dining halls or elsewhere on campus. This would also do wonders for Lehigh’s community relations and it would help local restaurants make a name for themselves with Lehigh students. Off campus eateries often cater events at Lehigh and events are often held that involve the use of local businesses. It is an excellent idea to involve these local businesses and enlist their support in promoting the Southside.
Lehigh has many large spaces for meeting on campus. Lehigh need not be the only actor to go out of its bounds to connect with the community. The very nature of being a college makes this possible. Given this, it is a wonder why Lehigh does not host more local community leaders on campus, especially given the air of suspicion and resentment in Southside. By hosting these groups, the University gives direct access to the local community to the campus and allows them to connect with Lehigh on a very physical, spatial level. This would also be a positive interaction as Lehigh would show that it takes an active interest in the community that it is part of and no longer wants to be cloistered off. It would be a substantial embrace of the neighborhood and show that our university has a stake in the success of Southside too.

What we have to look forward to…

The era of Lehigh’s separation from the Southside must draw to a close for good. Times have changed and if Lehigh is to be considered a progressive, world-class school, the angst and snobbery some of the students, faculty and administrations have towards the Southside must come to an end; classism is no longer a la mode. Lehigh has come a long way in recent decades towards reaching this goal. The current and previous two presidents have done more to undo the years of official separation from the neighborhood than ever before.
Lehigh and its students must change the attitude that has led to this unfortunate situation. Lehigh should focus more on being a well rounded school acclaimed for academics, not for egotistical elitism and partying. This attitude has done more in the past to harm relations with the local residents than anything. It has led to bad policies and resentment from the local community that runs deep in some areas in Southside. Lehigh should also focus more on diversity in its student body to help break away from the fear or angst towards the Southside. This should be more than a simple question on an admissions form but something the University practices. Lastly, Lehigh should actually interact with the neighborhood, not just look at it and theorize about what to do. By holding functions off campus, Lehigh can improve community relations and add to student comfort with the neighborhood. The biggest problem is the fear students have of the crime that seemingly plagues the neighborhood. With more students developing a sense of place off campus, combined with adequate law enforcement measures, this fear can be lessened and Lehigh students will no longer have a reason not to go into Southside,
Lehigh can change. We have gone from a school of 60 students occupying one building and not accepting women to a campus of over 4,000 undergraduates that accepts women and even has one as the president. While attitudes and traditions run deep in our university, they can be uprooted and changed; all it takes is a little faith and hard work.

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