It is impossible to ignore how much of a presence Lehigh has throughout South Bethlehem. With the Path to Prominence initiative, Lehigh’s students and its brand will be even more pervasive beyond the university’s campus.
Part of this initiative involves providing students more housing options — namely within the city of South Bethlehem.
It is admirable that our institution is looking to remain competitive alongside other prestigious universities, while expanding and providing its students with ample opportunity for success. After all, the point of this initiative is to attract potential students and provide value to current students.
While this expansion may provide Lehigh new advantages, it means something different for South Bethlehem residents.
Already, Lehigh’s social scene undoubtedly takes place off campus among full-time South Bethlehem residents. These residents, or “townies,” as students unaffectionately call them, are neighbors of Lehigh students. They are directly affected by our actions.
As demand for off-campus housing intensifies and rent continues to rise, it impacts not only current students but also local residents.
With parties going late into the night with little regard for neighbors who may have to work the next morning, noise complaints are to be expected. This should not be how neighbors are treated.
Students feel as though South Bethlehem is our home away from home. But for full-time residents, South Bethlehem is their only home — and they’ve been here much longer than we have.
The Path to Prominence and the expansion of Lehigh’s presence will permanently change the landscape of South Bethlehem, both physically and financially.
Lehigh’s administration appears to believe this expansion will improve the area — especially to appeal to the university is current and potential stakeholders.
Incoming college students often look for that “cute college town” to spend their four years of undergraduate studies. From an outsider’s perspective, South Bethlehem may not fit this ideal.
However, once Lehigh students immerse themselves in the South Bethlehem community and take time to explore the small businesses that lie beyond the hallowed party grounds of East Fifth Street, South Bethlehem’s artsy charm and authenticity is apparent.
With Lehigh’s expansion, the price of living in South Bethlehem will skyrocket, making it very difficult for South Bethlehem residents who have built lives over dozens of years to continue residing here.
While Lehigh may invest money into local businesses, if the price of living rises like financial commonsense may suggest, it is difficult to tell how long these cherished community businesses will stay afloat.
As students, we should embrace what South Bethlehem has to offer. We should join the Bethlehem community and encourage our peers to do the same.
Whether or not Lehigh students know it, there are gems all throughout our community, making the South Side beloved by its longstanding inhabitants.
Rather than further Lehigh’s omnipotence on the South Bethlehem community, we should support the vibrancy that already exists.
Instead of just considering South Bethlehem our home away from home, we should simply consider it our home.