Coming to IU for the first time, whether from another city in Indiana or from over 600 miles away on the east coast, can feel like stepping into Disney World. When I visited Bloomington for the first time, I was immediately charmed by the walkable downtown, quirky small businesses, lively arts scene and gorgeous campus landscaping and architecture.
With the town’s character in addition to IU’s exciting sports, massive student body, energizing school spirit and excellent academic opportunities, it is no surprise that students flock here from across the state, country and world for all that Bloomington and the university have to offer. Nearly half of IU Bloomington’s 2023 freshman class are either out-of-state or international students.
One of the first other freshmen I met when I started here last year — a girl who was also from the east coast — told me she ultimately chose IU for the “Big Ten experience.” This seems to describe an experience characterized by thriving Greek life, packed tailgate fields and, of course, sports worth getting excited for.
I can’t argue with other students who share this feeling about IU. Being here is undoubtedly fun and exciting. But I’ve also noticed that many students who love IU for these reasons are the same ones who strive to head straight for a bigger, “better” city like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or D.C. immediately after graduation.
For some students, Bloomington is simply seen as a stop for the four or so years we spend obtaining an IU degree — after that, the Big Ten experience is over, and it’s time for real life. But I beg that we as IU students rewrite this narrative on a large scale. I see it happening all around me already, but more of us can confront our relationship with Bloomington and ensure active engagement with the city past our status as university students.
Colleges notoriously tend to have tense relationships with the towns and cities they inhabit. Take an incident that happened at the beginning of this school year at Yale, in which the university police union handed out fear-mongering pamphlets to incoming first-year students concerning the safety of New Haven.
[Related: OPINION: Why are we rushing for recognition]
This tension is often referred to as town and gown — the relationship between the university community and the town residents. Look no further than our beloved “Breaking Away” — a movie that explores the dynamic between townies and students with the backdrop of the Little 500. As IU students, we can consciously work to lead by example as students who strive for community participation and recognition of our responsibility to engage with Bloomington past our student classification.
We can strengthen the existence of this town and gown relationship in a positive light and its integrity by voting in local elections and further engaging in local politics and activism, volunteering with non-profit organizations, buying from local businesses and constantly opening our perspectives of how to engage with Bloomington and its residents who are not affiliated with IU.
I deeply resonate with and am inspired to see fellow classmates and IU alumni like Sydney Zulich — a 20-year-old IU graduate who is running for city council on a platform that strives for change that would benefit all Bloomington residents, not just students.
Past engaging with the wider Bloomington or Indiana community while we are in this town working toward a degree, I urge my peers to consider that it is okay to want to put your education to work in Bloomington or Indiana after graduation. Though we may be under the impression that success only comes with moving to a big city to begin an exciting, prestigious career, there is so much meaningful impact to be made locally as well. We do not have to strive to escape this wonderful pocket of the Midwest that IU students have the privilege to call home after earning a degree.
Leila Faraday (she/her) is a sophomore studying policy analysis with minors in geography and urban planning.