Discourse / Editorials / January 27, 2016

Bridging ‘us’ and ‘them’ starts with us

By the end of my first semester at college, I had learned of two generalities made in Galesburg. The first was that the Galesburg residents perceive the Knox students as wealthy and stuck-up. The second being that the Knox students perceive the Galesburg residents as old and narrow-minded. Of course, these are just generalities, meaning they are far from the truth. However, these generalities cause divides between the residents and the students. When discussing the “Knox bubble,” students quickly pin-point the problem to exterior explanations. Students may recall awkward or tense incidents brought on by the Galesburg community. Although these accounts are always valid points, I tend to believe that the students can never seriously change the behavior of the residents, only ourselves, in the hopes that the Galesburg locals follow suit. One strategy students could make in order to close the barrier between the Galesburg natives and the Knox students is to stop referring to them as “townies.”

Technically speaking, Knox students view the term “townie” as someone who lives in Galesburg. If that were truly the case, then that would make my peers, some of the faculty and staff, and myself all townies. However, I know I have never been called one. Instead, the word “townie” is aligned with elitism and separation. Since there is already a separation, using terms like “local” and “resident” is a more socially conscious approach.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and 5th Ward Alderman Peter Schwartzman acknowledges that he has used the term in the past without intended malice, but has since learned of its ulterior motives. “It is typically used to look down upon someone and assumes someone is uneducated and doesn’t travel much,” he said.

A student or faculty member may argue that because the term may not be directly stated to a resident, then it is harmless. However, the speaker is actively driving a wedge between the community and the school or labeling them as “other.” A local doesn’t have to hear it for Galesburg to be affected. Schwartzman argues that Knox College and Galesburg are dependent on each other but have to be more intentional. “We recognize our mutualism but don’t do as much as we can.”

Of course, the residents hold some of the responsibility to be a more integrated community too. Although the college invites the public to free events, they don’t always show up. This may be because despite the invitation, they still don’t feel welcome. As much as the Galesburg residents enter our college, the students should enter their community. This way, it doesn’t become ours versus theirs. “You make a difference. When you go into a community and do something, you become part of that entity,” Schwartzman said.

Connie Meade

Tags:  city of galesburg Connie Meade Galesburg Knox College mutual respect understanding

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