‘A Day in the Life’ Column: Walking past Fourth Street


South Bethlehem has a bad reputation at this university.

Nadine Elsayed

Nadine Elsayed

Ask any student what they think of the streets neighboring their school and you’ll hear an array of colorful responses that will always include the familiar nicknames “Sketchlehem” and “Methlehem.”

But why do we think this way?

Why do I – someone born and raised in Bethlehem – feel the need to always clarify that I live “15 minutes away in North Bethlehem” every time someone asks me where I’m from? What has conditioned Lehigh students to automatically view South Bethlehem in such a negative light?

Stigma and a lack of understanding often cause many to fear South Bethlehem and its inhabitants. But sometimes reaching out and meeting a “townie” is the best way to break that stigma.

Meet Andrea Dejesus – 33-year-old “townie” and owner of A-List Salon on Fourth Street.

I first met Andrea at the club fair earlier this year. We had made that dreaded student-to-table-person eye contact, so I felt the obligation to approach her with a secret hope for free things. She told me about her salon on Fourth Street and I told her that I would definitely be in to see her soon.

A few great haircuts later, I really got to know Andrea and the A-List Salon well.

Coming from a family of teachers, Andrea told me that gene must have skipped her.

“I always wanted to do hair,” she said during one of our meetings. “Ever since I was younger I knew I wanted to have my own salon.”

So she went after her dream. She attended the local community college Lehigh Carbon Community College and graduated with a business management degree. Afterward, she attended beauty school in order to complete her 1,250 mandatory hours.

Contrary to popular belief, however, beauty school isn’t quite as easy as it may seem.

In addition to studying hair and makeup, Andrea had to take anatomy, chemistry and electricity courses. She then had to pass two state board exams — one written and one practical — in order to become certified. After graduating and working almost five years in different salons, Andrea finally felt like she was ready to open her own salon.

“When I first opened, it was just me and one other girl, but now we have four stylists,” she told me. “I like to think that we’re the perfect blend of New York style and Pennsylvania prices. We keep it real casual and always on a first-name basis. We want people to feel at home.”

And it does feel like home. Andrea’s salon is filled with stylists who not only give fantastic haircuts, but who are also genuinely kind and fun people.

Something that I noticed, however, was that not many of Andrea’s customers are Lehigh students.

A-List Salon is only a few blocks from Lehigh’s campus. So why was this place not bustling with students? Did Lehigh students not need to get their hair cut? Was someone cutting people’s hair out of their residence hall for free? The fact that there were no familiar faces in this salon confused me.

I soon came to the realization, however, that Andrea’s salon isn’t visited by Lehigh students because South Bethlehem isn’t visited by Lehigh students.

Like the Lehigh University Police Department, South Bethlehem has a stigma attached to its name. We have this misleading image of locals, which only adds to the perpetual social and systemic barrier of the “Lehigh Bubble.”

The “Lehigh Bubble” causes a strict divide in our city — a divide where kids living higher up on the mountain will never walk past Fourth Street in fear of their safety from “townies.” That imagined fear, however, causes an “us” versus “them” mentality that really causes more harm than good.

I shouldn’t have to automatically provide a disclaimer every time someone asks me where I am from. I shouldn’t have to explain that not everyone from Bethlehem wants to stop you at gunpoint and steal your wallet. I shouldn’t have to convince my peers that they’ll actually be safe if they leave campus.

“People will see one thing on the news and get scared but we’re just regular people,” Andrea said. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I was always playing outside. My sisters and I would run up the street to play and get pizza, and we were never afraid.

“Of course there are things like ‘don’t talk to strangers’ but that’s all just normal neighborhood advice.”

There are good people here in Bethlehem. Good people like Andrea who want their business to feel like home to students. Good people who want to bridge the gap between locals and students. Good people who are much more than the stereotype we instantly label them as.

When we stereotype Bethlehem, we don’t get to have conversations with people like Andrea.

We don’t get to hear her talk about her favorite movies or how she likes to listen to jazz and the blues. We don’t get to compare high school experiences as she talks about her 16-year-old daughter Alondra. We don’t get to see the fun camaraderie that occurs when the mailman comes to the salon to hand deliver the mail.

Instead, we’ll see a different, darker side of Bethlehem. We’ll see a side where locals are instantly and always viewed in a negative light because of deeply rooted stereotypes.

But that shouldn’t be the case.

Lehigh’s population changes every four years, but this city still remains the same. We owe it to our neighbors in South Bethlehem to at least make a conscientious effort to give this city and its people a chance. We just need to find the courage to keep walking past Saxby’s and finally burst through that confining imaginary bubble into a world of adventure.

“Come see us,” Andrea says to Lehigh students. “Don’t be scared of Fourth Street.”


Andrea Dejesus is a Bethlehem local and owner of the A-List Salon (Nadine Elsayed / B&W photo).

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