Micheal Bérubé on college towns

A delightful vignette from an essay on the curious social, cultural, and economic dynamics of rural college towns by cultural critic Micheal Bérubé in The Chronicle of Higher Education :

From "Blue Towns in Red States" (sub required):

When I moved to Champaign, Ill., and witnessed a biter, friendship-ending–and coalition-ending–conflict between vegetarians and vegans over who slipped the cream into the broccoli soup at the local organic food co-op, I knew I was in a college town.

What a great image.  For me it brings to mind not only the small town
foibles of Garisson Keilor’s mythic Lake Wobegone, but also Yiddish storyteller Sholom Aleichem‘s hilarious yarns of intra-Jewish linguistic squabbles
in the 19th century Pale of Settlement between defenders of
Yiddish–the traditional language of European Jewry–and young, err,
turks promoting Hebrew.

One socio-cultural phenomenon Bérubé omits is the sometimes tense interactions between less well off locals and students, especially those who are living large and without a care in the world thanks to Daddy (or Mommy) while their local peers toil in low-paying jobs. 

Students in small towns often occupy, I suspect, a paradoxical place in the ecosystem like that of tourists in developing countries.  Locals bemoan their presence and impact on their way of life while being hopelessly (and sometimes resentfully) dependent on them to keep the economy afloat. 

  • http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/ Rachel

    Thank you for this! I live now on the fringes of the college town where I was once a student, and this resonates for me quite a bit.
    Also, I love your comparison of this with both Garrison Keilor and Sholom Aleichem — two storytellers whose work I admire, and who I’d never thought to compare in this way.

  • http://fakirnihindi.wordpress.com MG

    All true. The comparison with tourists in developing countries is very apt, because many of the college students in situations like the one described above think of themselves as earnest lefties and probably get involved in environmental activism and so on, but don’t actually come into contact much with the “real” locals or want to think about the privilege that money has bestowed upon them.

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