Students must face facts to “Make it Real”

Illustration by Amanda Morrison
Illustration by Amanda Morrison
Illustration by Amanda Morrison
Illustration by Amanda Morrison

It’s a pretty safe assumption that — compared to most universities in Virginia — VCU has one of the least traditional campuses. Integrated into the city, the lines between what is VCU and the rest of Richmond can become very blurred. College students spill into nearby neighborhoods and businesses, assimilating to what they believe is the rhythm of Richmond.

Coffee shops appear and are instantly filled with hip young adults, apartment complexes and townhouses are renovated and are quickly inhabited by students while VCU facilities creep into historical districts. The swift transformation that Monroe Ward has occurred to accommodate more than 31,000 students who have migrated into the city to obtain their degrees here at VCU, really is a sort of “havoc.”

The kick is, we just keep getting bigger and as incorporated as the VCU campus may be into the preexisting city, the institutional bubble that students reside within blinds them to the very real and dwindling communities that once existed in a place that now bleeds yellow and black.

Students are also oblivious to the fact that Richmond is bleeding from something different and not near as spirited. Gentrification. The assailant? The rams we all know and love: VCU.

Money and property are topics that are becoming more and more common within university headlines. With the new practice facility now open and operating, the Institute for Contemporary Art underway and what was previously known as the Sahara Hookah lounge recently being purchased, to any member of the VCU student body it would seem that the university really did “build this city.”

The hard reality of the harsh conditions that come with gentrification are difficult to swallow, but the very least that can be done is acknowledge what happens when a very wealthy and powerful institution moves into a neighborhood that is home to, according to First Things First of Greater Richmond, a community whose households are 60% are single-parent.

Property values rise, forcing residents onto the streets as rent has risen approximately one-hundred dollars since 2005. Buildings fight community access with key card swipes and iris cameras, waving money in the faces of those who can no longer afford to live where they grew up.

Millions of dollars are poured into VCU facilities to make way for our ever expanding student body — large even for a state school– while just across the street entire neighborhoods fall apart and the people who reside within them are consequently labeled as “ghetto” by incoming students.

The ignorant students who avoid the residents of Jackson Ward because of stereotyping, become oblivious to the ugly face of gentrification.

Are people really wary of Jackson Ward because of dangerous conditions, or are they resistant to step foot into something that isn’t branded by VCU? Students need to be aware that it is a place where POC suffer in poverty due to generation after generation suffering at the hands of institutionalized racism.

If a university has enough cash to purchase Sahara Hookah Lounge for $ 2.5 million you would think that their community outreach program would be the best in Virginia. Considering were located in an area where, according to the Richmond 2013 census, 25% of people live in poverty.

Instead, students will occasionally take it upon themselves to aid the homeless that filter onto VCU campus before they are swept away by staff members on VCUPD. VCU Aspire works with community engagement to aid underprivileged individuals in the surrounding community, and student organizations provide a large variety of services for displaced peoples in Richmond.

Yet, it oddly feels like we try our hardest to prevent our campus from “making it real” by pushing the reality of Richmond off campus. Key card swipes restrict access to a library funded by state taxes and Cary street gym is closed to all VCU affiliates.  If we are going to build and grow into communities that are already established we cannot, with right conscious, ignore the families we are affecting.

Who am I to talk? I live here, I study here, the job that I have is funded by the alternative adults that thrive in The Fan District. By paying my tuition, I’m contributing to the overall problem. All I can hope for is to be heard, and in turn, give those who are in need what they are desperately asking for: a voice.

By choosing to live in the city, to work in the city and to study in the city, you choose everything that comes along with that. We cannot pick and choose the aspects of Richmond that we wish to experience, and neither can VCU.

Emily Himes, Contributing Columnist

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