Sarah Marshall: Ripping up the welcome mat

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Lately, I have been struck by how many Amherst residents seem to consider college students (especially UMass students) to be a blight on our town. Listen to how some people speak about students — how they change the character of the neighborhood, how they behave, their way of life, the kind of food they enjoy, the trouble they make. Imagine that the speaker is referring to an ethnic, racial, or religious minority group, and see if you aren’t appalled by the bias.

Of course, most of these critics likely were college students at one time, but their attitude is now one of harrumphing hostility. Some don’t think the Jones Library project should seek to accommodate college students (“they should stay in their own part of town” is the message), or think they shouldn’t live in our town centers, or blame the people who build housing for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members for destroying local businesses (as if malls and internet shopping haven’t devastated Main Street businesses all over the country).

Too many longtime residents hold on to the fantasies that Amherst can host a major research university without having to address the needs of its students, that UMass will house all of them on campus, and that the tide of change can be stemmed. Higher education is Amherst’s strongest industry, and we should welcome its workers and consumers and not try to drive them away.

Sarah Marshall