The bulldozers are coming.
By Noah Weinrich
HILLSDALE, MI-Amidst the excitement surrounding both new and upcoming renovation projects on Hillsdale College’s campus, some voices aren’t quite so enthusiastic about the changes. Between the renovation of the Simpson and McIntyre dormitories, the tearing down of several houses to make room for tennis courts and parking lots, and the general improvement in the quality of buildings and services on campus, long-time College residents fear the ill effect that comes with such improvements: gentrification.
Fifth-year student Jack Haversham was wary of these improvements. “Sure, better food is nice, but at what cost? When you bring in things like a panini press, who benefits from that? Not the community, that’s for sure. Local produce is definitely not a part of the culture of this College.”
Other residents echoed Haversham’s fears, saying they feared that the improvements to the College would bring in too many wealthy young residents looking for a scene on the upswing, displacing long-time residents. “I mean, we just had almost 400 students leave the College in May, only to be replaced almost immediately by a new crowd attracted by the ‘arts scene’ and ‘coffee shop,’” complained senior Dolores Johnson, while chain-smoking American Spirits on the back porch of her thirteen-person house. She bemoans the likelihood that the arrival of new residents would “displace the current community” and “destroy our rich culture.”
“First it’s a few new classroom buildings, then a new sports building, and the next thing you know you’ve got fire pits in the dorms! What’s next, some kind of space-age escalator?” Professor Oliver South lamented, visibly distraught over the changes he’s witnessed in the College over the last decade, and apparently unaware of the new features of the Searle Center.
Gentrification is a phenomenon in which wealthy residents move into historically impoverished areas, often drawn by location, low rents, and a rich culture or history. This often results in the erosion of these very elements, however, as the new residents raise property values and create a homogeneous culture.
Not everyone was so pessimistic about the results of these changes, however. One sophomore sociology major expressed his eagerness: “I’ll finally be able to connect to the 21st-century urban plight. This change really helps me identify with impoverished minority families feeling the squeeze. At this point, there’s not much difference between Oakland, Brooklyn, and Hillsdale. Eating ramen makes me poor, right?”
“I really don’t see any problem,” said freshman John Youngman. “Haven’t we always had Bon Appetit? I feel like the residents here can’t complain about better property values and cooler stores.” When asked, Youngman admitted he didn’t “technically know any upperclassmen,” and paid none of his own bills.
Several students pointed to the unusually high standardized test scores as evidence of unwanted gentrification in the community. Haversham echoed these concerns: “To me, y’know, this just evidences the fact that they have a self-conception of themselves as more smart and more well-educated than us, and they’re trying to push us out of our place.” [sic]
At time of press, the College has bulldozed seven blocks of houses this semester, reportedly in preparation to put in a new facility for the chess club and a donors-only movie theater.
Noah Weinrich is a sophomore studying politics and English.
Image courtesy Elena Creed.