BY ALEXA CHERRY
Over winter break, I traveled for many long hours with my family across the continent and through 3 different airports in order to visit relatives in Harrisonburg, Virginia. There, I noticed a surprising amount of criticism and dissent regarding James Madison University – the college that takes up half of Harrisonburg. The college kids were “rabble-rousers”. My uncle was angry that the school had bought and remodeled part of the hospital he’d gotten his life saved at, and as my aunt drove my mother and I around to look at real estate, she remarked on what a shame it was that some of the older houses owned by the college were getting “wrecked” by the parties being held in them. Even I found myself criticizing JMU, if only because when we went to the local equivalent of Fred Meyer, there was a separate credit card machine that JMU students could use to get a student discount on their groceries.
Seeing this involved college-town lifestyle made me turn my thoughts to UAS. There are many things I like about our school; the minimal amount of traffic, the fact that if I have to run from one class to the other it will take me under 5 minutes, my ability to say “Hi” to any of my professors if I see them professoring around campus. However, my relatives’ attitude toward JMU made me realize just how isolated from the rest of Juneau we really are. Not that I want people to be complaining about us “darn college kids,” but seriously – they get discounts on groceries! That’s useful! And here at UAS, while I understand that being out in nature is a big selling point, I still can’t help but feel like those in charge picked the furthest, most isolated location for our school to possibly be located in and plonked us on a hill where we would be out of the way and wouldn’t bother anyone. And that bothers me.
Why? Because while I certainly am living the college life, that’s all I’m living. I rarely leave the housing/campus/REC Center trifecta, at least when it comes to going downtown or to Douglas Island, which is where the majority of what makes Juneau the lively artistic community that it is seems to happen. This is partly because I rely on friends with cars or the bus system, and either way it’s 20-30 minutes to get down there.
In my experience, people in Juneau don’t really seem to acknowledge UAS as a college with students – they look at it more as a location where further artistic events happen (Evenings at Egan, various library seminars, etc.), and certainly no businesses see us as relevant or important. Even the Waffle Co. never offered student discounts, even though UAS students were its primary source of business since Day 1. The Student Housing shopping shuttle goes to Fred Meyer twice a week – UAS students make up a good deal of their business, and we’re not even being recognized for that.
I voiced this irritation to my father, a graduate of “Harvard on the Hill”—or as it is more professionally known, Fort Lewis College—and was surprised to learn that he had the same problem when he attended school there. Despite being a significant part of the town’s economy, college students were largely ignored and did not receive the discounts and benefits that other college towns offered their students.
I assumed our conversation on the topic would end with him commiserating with my disgruntlement, but to my surprise, he continued on to say that at his school, they decided to solve the problem by showing the community that they were, in fact, contributing members who did not appreciate being ignored. He told me that he joined forces with a large group of other students who all proceeded to pay for everything everywhere with only Susan B. Anthony dollars. This, he continued, made the community sit up and take notice. Suddenly, businesses everywhere were getting piles of dollar coins at the end of transactions, and while a valid form of currency, few cash registers (if any) have an assigned slot for Susan B. Anthony dollars. While frustrating, it was also noticeable – since there were plenty of college students, businesses were getting plenty of dollar coins, and they began to realize that college students composed quite a lot of their business. Once they came to this realization, they started recognizing the fact by offering student discounts and paying more attention to this notable section of the economy, and in response Harvard-on-the-Hill students stopped paying for everything with Susan B. Anthony dollars.
Frankly, I think we should follow the example of my father and his friends before us and do as they did. I like UAS, but I dislike the sense of disconnect it has with the community and even the town of Juneau as a whole. As students, we not only pay a lot of money to come here and stay here (what with groceries, gas money, bus passes, entertainment like movies and plays, etc.), but we also contribute to the economy by working jobs during both the school year and the summertime, when Juneau companies need bodies to keep the tourist industry alive. With that being said, I really don’t think it’s too much to ask that students receive discounts at local restaurants, bookstores, and especially the grocery store. Do you?