Sketchlehem. Bethle-hell. It’s no secret the relationship between Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents is strained at best.
As Lehigh students, we tend to look down on locals, especially South Side residents. Locals tend to be annoyed with Lehigh students, thinking we’re snobby, entitled and always ruining their town. Efforts like the South Side cleanup event have attempted to repair the town-gown relationship, but there is still a long way to go.
As someone who was born in Bethlehem and lives nearby, I often feel stuck in the middle of this conflict. Growing up, I always loved Bethlehem and even liked living here when I was younger. Even though I’m starting to think I might need a change of scene after more than 20 years in Bethlehem, I still love this town and had a great time growing up in the area. Both my parents went to Lehigh as well, so I grew up loving the town and the school. I was excited to live here and be a student.
Even though I love my hometown, I didn’t start school at Lehigh being completely naive. I knew things weren’t perfect between the school and the town, but I didn’t realize how bad things were until I got here. Students don’t like or respect the town and seem to just bear down and tolerate their time here rather than enjoying what Bethlehem has to offer.
After a while of living in this environment, I started to look down on Bethlehem as well. The typical “So where are you from?” question at parties started feeling more and more awkward as I thought people were looking down on me because I was a “townie.” I also started developing a weird superiority complex to blend in with my peers. Yeah, I was a townie, but I was also a Lehigh student, which gave me a leg up.
It took me a while to even realize I was doing this, but when I did, I realized how stupid it was and how toxic the town-gown relationship has gotten.
I believe the path to fixing the problem starts with the students. In all honesty, a decent amount of the time, the locals have a right to be upset with us. We are often condescending and snobby — especially to South Side residents. We’re also loud and trash the areas close to campus every Tuesday through Saturday. It’s up to us to try to right the bad blood that’s developed between students and Bethlehem residents.
Most of this could be fixed by changing our collective attitude toward living in Bethlehem. Even though most of us are only here for four years, we’re neighbors as well as students. Students are going to have to start seeing Bethlehem residents as another group of peers instead of just “others.”
While I love parties as much as the next person, I can see how our intense party culture could bother people who live near campus. An effort to stop littering in the streets and keep music and noise outside of parties down could help residents tolerate our culture. An even better option would be if parties were moved back on campus so that students can party without bothering residents at all.
This campus-wide attitude change would be easier if students learned to explore and enjoy what Bethlehem has to offer. At Lehigh, it’s easy to feel like you’re living in a bubble and not explore the areas around campus, but Bethlehem has many food and entertainment opportunities to offer. Besides the South Side restaurants we know and love, North Side also has several hidden gems off the Main Street, such as McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub, an authentic English-style pub and whiskey bar. There’s also outdoor activities to do around the Bethlehem area, such as visiting the Crystal Caves, Illick’s Mill Park and the new Greenway. Bethlehem also has a rich history, from is Moravian roots to the height of its steel empire.
I know the problems between Lehigh and Bethlehem are deep-rooted over generations of students, but we can start to help fix things and create a new bond between the school and the city. It’s time to embrace being a townie and learn to love our home for these four years.
Anna Simoneau, ’18, is the lead visuals editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected],