Editorial: Living through the growing pains

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Bulldozers, jackhammers and heavy construction: these are some of the sights and sounds Lehigh students have become accustomed to during the first few weeks of the semester.

The construction of buildings like SouthSide Commons and the Bridge West Residence Hall, as well as renovations to existing structures like Chandler-Ullmann Hall and the University Center, are part of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence.

Although construction is a necessary step for expansion, the demolition has encroached on the lives of the Lehigh community.

On Birkel Avenue, students are woken up at early hours by the sound of heavy construction at the site of Southside Commons. Those living in Taylor Dorm deal with the same frustration.

The Lehigh that upperclassmen came to know looked a lot different than the Lehigh they see now. The reality of Lehigh’s expansion is that current students and community members will experience the growing pains of a changing school, but might not benefit from the end product.

The iconic architecture of Asa Packer campus is one of the first features prospective students notice when they visit Lehigh. Current students don’t look twice when local high schoolers take over the front lawn to take prom photos.  Showtime’s thriller “Homeland” even featured the facade of Linderman Library in an episode.

Apart from Lehigh’s aesthetic, size and accessibility, there are aspects of the university that prospective students find attractive during their college search processes.

For many, key components of the Lehigh experience are smaller classroom sizes, the ability to establish more personal relationships with faculty members and long-standing traditions. A university-wide expansion could possibly disrupt the appearance and qualities that set Lehigh apart from otherwise eerily similar universities.

Path to Prominence changes will not only affect the lives of current and prospective Lehigh students, but also impact South Side residents who live near the university and interact with its students and faculty. Expansion will give Lehigh students a more encompassing campus, only as residents of South Bethlehem watch parts of their community transform into something unrecognizable.

For starters, it seems as though new businesses are opening with only the Lehigh student demographic in mind.

South Bethlehem has opened trendier food destinations such as Starbucks, Roasted and Playa Bowls, while other community joints like Blue Sky Cafe have closed. Though the city is still diverse in its food options, these new destinations are becoming more noticeable and could overshadow community staples that helped build the South Side from the ground up. 

The Path to Prominence aims to improve Lehigh’s reputation on both the national and global scales, however in doing so, Lehigh runs the risk of losing its focus on keeping its local reputation. As Lehigh continues to build further into the community, there should be a conscious effort to strengthen its relationship with the South Side, rather than impede on it.

There are resources, offices and efforts on campus that facilitate a working relationship with South Bethlehem. The South Side Initiative, Broughal Middle School Homework Club and other events set forth by the Community Service Office are only a few ways  Lehigh students and faculty are attempting to blur the lines between the campus community and South Bethlehem – ultimately making it one in the same. 

But one thing both Lehigh students and local community members share is a feeling of uncertainty as the school is changing before our eyes, morphing into something unfamiliar. Construction around campus and in South Bethlehem is just one of the tangible reminders that the Path to Prominence is also a route into the unknown.

Perhaps it will be in a few years when we visit campus with our families or friends that we will fall in love with the new changes. But as for now, we must live with the growing pains and recognize that the impact extends far beyond us. 

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4 Comments

  1. Welcome to progress snowflakes. If you are lucky you will live in areas that have jack hammers running and construction activity all year round. This is the price adults pay for moving forward – a little noise and inconvenience. The alternative, though very quiet and peaceful, is not so attractive for the future.

  2. Embarrassed to Be Associated on

    Lehigh was once considered an elite school. I don’t see how the Path to Prominence is going to help as much as figuring out why its reputation has been bruised to the point that it has plummeted on the US News charts for National Universities.

    • Hear, hear. I paid to go to a top 30 school, one ranked higher than NYU, BC, and Georgia Tech. I’ve been following the rankings closely, and this has not happened to ANY other top school.

      In an age when schools live or die by the rankings, you would think there would be more talk around this issue. Do you know whether Lehigh is working to remedy this?

  3. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Fifty years after graduating from high school, I toured the school which was located in the same location as when it was built; the original building was still there, meaning the original bricks. Everything else had been changed and remodeled. No deja vu.

    After Fifty years the Lehigh campus has not changed much except north of Packer Chapel, that’s all new. Taylor Stadium has been replaced and many of the sporting events once held in Grace Hall are now held in Stabler Arena. I forget what it looked like between Grace Hall and the Alumni Memorial Building, the boxwoods still smell the same as long ago, but it is fantastic now; level and scenic, a joy for the alumni reunion parade. Bethlehem Steel is gone and so are the jobs that employed Southside workers. Workers and students could walk to the events at the on main campus sporting venues. It is not as convenient for those two groups to cross the mountain but it is better for alumni.

    Lehigh seems to have a more formal relationship with South Bethlehem but it is better than when I was a student because Lehigh cares more. All change is problematic in the short run, hopefully planned changes will make things better for Lehigh and the community. It will be awhile before we see if the planners and politicians did their work well.

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