My first impressions of Springfield College came when I was in eighth grade. Daily bus rides home from school took me from the city’s South End and down Alden Street. The campus as I remember it then was everything I thought a college should be, and after transferring here last fall, I’ve found it to be better than I imagined.
I’m continually impressed by the general goodness of the people around me and their dedication to all things spirit, mind, and body. What troubles me, though, is the way that many of my peers—extremely hardworking and passionate people—talk about the city of Springfield itself.
Almost every day I hear generalizations made about a city in which I’ve lived my entire life. Any loud noise is often followed by the phrase, “Probably a gunshot,” which is now practically a cliché. I’ve heard, “I don’t want to get shot” more times than I can count as a reason for not wanting to go somewhere. Last year I was asked, “So if you’re from Springfield, how many people do you know who’ve been stabbed?” I’ve found that news stories of crimes are sensationalized and relayed by some students as if the number of crimes is some sort of accomplishment, or viewed with complete nonchalance. Violence in Springfield? Typical.
There is no denying that Springfield has challenges to overcome. What makes me most uncomfortable is the way I’ve heard the city spoken about when out in the community. I am proud to represent this College, but at the same time I am often embarrassed by the people around me who criticize the appearances of the buildings, make judgments and assumptions about people they see, and say things like, “I hope we don’t get caught in a drive-by” or, “There’s probably a drug deal going on.” When we say these things or use our city’s crime rate as bragging rights, we’re not making matters better. Determining whose city has more murders per year is a contest that nobody wins. By making these types of comments, we are showing ignorance to the people whose daily lives are affected by the city’s problems.
I want to be clear, though: I’m sure these generalizations and attitudes exist not just at Springfield College, but in the city’s other colleges as well. The thing about our college, though, is that it carries the city’s name. Perpetuating rumors and creating unnecessary paranoia can have an impact on one of the city’s greatest assets, its educational institutions. I’m afraid that the way we create hype around crime will discourage prospective students who aren’t sure they want to ‘take a risk’ to come here.
Springfield as a city is often used as a scapegoat to create false tales of overcoming adversity. I cringe when I hear people talking about the city as if it’s a warzone, as if it’s some sort of personal accomplishment that they ‘survived’ going to school here. The truth is that many of the people who express negative views about Springfield have never experienced any of its violence first-hand, and have only benefited from being here. So many Springfield College alumni have returned to the campus either as faculty members or grad students. There must be some reason why people stay on Alden Street.
Another idea I’ve heard but don’t quite understand is the comparison between Springfield College and “actual Springfield.” Springfield College is actual Springfield. We may have arches now, but there is no invisible bubble that separates the school from the city. I’m okay with the distinction that Springfield at noon is different than Springfield at two in the morning, but that can be said about almost anywhere. Avoiding any sort of danger means making smart, safe choices, not using a college’s location as an easy target on which to place the blame for poor decisions.
When I try to disprove some of the statements I hear people make about Springfield by saying that it is my hometown, I often hear, “Yeah, but you’re not from actual Springfield,” or, “Yeah, but you’re different.” I don’t like what either of these responses implies. Statements like these make me an exception, but to what rule? Where is the comparison? Those who try to separate themselves in this way by putting a wall between the school and the rest of the city are dangerously close to “othering” the city’s residents and making it sound like we think we are, in some way, better.
By speaking in such negative terms about the city, students are discrediting something they themselves are a part of. While we aren’t all natives to the city, we still should hold ourselves accountable as members of the community not to feed into generalizations for the sake of creating gossip.
The negative verbal culture surrounding the city takes away from all that Springfield has to offer—events at the MassMutual Center, the libraries and museums at the Quadrangle, the natural beauty of Forest Park. To experience these things, students must look past the news that often makes headlines and be willing to step beyond Alden Street, pushing aside that hype-induced fear that often leaves them bound to the campus. Whether we choose to accept it or not, the city of Springfield will leave its mark on all of us. We need to raise our expectations of what we can do if we preach what we practice—if we promote our positive actions to empower the community instead of speaking out against it.
What do you say, Springfield?