It’s no secret that the climate in Charleston is Townies vs. EIU. I grew up here, and I remember all the grumbles about those pesky students getting in the way, wreaking havoc on the town, silver spoons dangling out of their mouths. Never mind that this town would be crippled without the university. Businesses would shut down, properties would be vacant and abandoned, and jobs would be sparse. We’ve spoken in Coles Progressives meetings about this phenomenon -- that there is a major divide between Charleston the town and Eastern the campus. Suggestions were made about city beautification and attracting business, but it didn’t really hit me how lacking our efforts are here until Joe at Bob’s Bookstore told the poetry reading group (Tuesdays at 7p, Bob’s Bookstore) about the different approach Carbondale takes in something as simple as welcoming the SIU students back to the city. He said that they celebrate the return of the students, and there are welcome signs everywhere, as well as student discounts at stores and much more. They lay out the red carpet for the next generation of America’s talent.
I find it disturbing that some of our students won’t go north of Polk Street on nights and weekends because there are plenty of instances of bad things happening to them in this town. Let’s face it, who’s welcoming them from the north side?
We all have something to gain from fostering a relationship with the campus community and bridging the gap between Charleston and EIU. I challenge City Council, local business owners, and community members to band together to be more welcoming and accepting of the students. Let’s show them that they truly have a home here, be it 9 months at a time, or for the entire year.
Nikki Davidson, Charleston