Being a Lehigh student doesn’t just mean attending the university. It means that, for four years, you’re a Bethlehem resident.
This fact concerns some. Most students come to Bethlehem from New York or New Jersey or, in my case, places like San Diego. Nice places, generally. Bethlehem, specifically South Bethlehem, isn’t where they would choose to live. The crushing loss of Bethlehem Steel in 1995 still has the town reeling, and the population is still healing.
Lehigh students, though, don’t generally grow up in the area. They don’t know the city very well. When they get here, all they know is how different from their hometown Bethlehem is.
Chief Ed Shupp’s constant “safety updates” aren’t helping students feel welcomed, either. But Bethlehem has more to offer than muggings and burglaries.
In fact, Bethlehem has a surprisingly low crime rate. When compared to similarly-sized Pennsylvania cities like Scranton, Reading and Lancaster, it actually has the lowest rate.
The low rate isn’t anything new, either. In 2000, Bethlehem’s crime rate was at 257 — in 2012, it rested at 229. When compared to a popular area like Lancaster, the difference is staggering. In 2000, Lancaster’s crime rate was 634. It has lowered considerably over the years, but 2012’s number is still high at 454.
If you were emailed every time a crime was committed in those towns, you would be even more scared to walk home after a party.
Not that you shouldn’t be cautious. Every city is dangerous at night, and Bethlehem is no exception. Overall, though, Bethlehem is actually safer than its similarly-sized neighbors.
Lehigh students shouldn’t be hiding in their dorm rooms because they think Bethlehem is “sketchy.” The city has a huge amount to offer, and students can only help the surrounding economy by branching out.
The city boasts 10 major festivals held yearly, a huge community of small businesses, the title “Christmas City USA” and Moravian bookshop — the oldest bookshop in the world, established in 1745.
Musikfest, held in August, is a Bethlehem event that students generally at least hear about. The event totals about 300 performances in 10 days, spanning 14 stages — 11 of which are completely free to the public.
First-year students are annually dragged to SteelStacks in an effort to show them how fun Lehigh and Bethlehem can be. Usually, they don’t go back for at least a year. I definitely didn’t. But SteelStacks is a great place for someone who wants to have fun without a party once in a while. With comedy shows, films, concerts, trivia, open mic nights and live Rocky Horror Picture Show performances, SteelStacks has pretty much everything. And it’s not too far from campus, either.
There are countless places like SteelStacks and events like Musikfest in Bethlehem, not to mention a small army of small businesses waiting to be discovered.
This city may be different from your hometown, but it’s the place you’ll be living for four years of your life, and it deserves a chance.
Lehigh students don’t have to be confined to campus and house parties. There is so much more to experience.
Visit the Lost River Caverns. Go to a family-owned restaurant. Attend a festival. Be a part of your surroundings.