For a change of pace, I decided to interview a couple of students about their experience going off campus. I interviewed one student, Brian, who has grown up in the Lehigh Valley, as well as Vernon, who is not originally from the area, but is highly involved on campus, and is committed to learning about his surroundings. Here’s a little info on Vernon!
Vernon Jordan, III is a member of the class of 2016. He is going through the process of a self-design major: He calls it Black Voice and Cultural Studies – where he’ll be looking at the uniqueness of black creative expression and its relationship to surrounding social structures, black identity and how they are woven into the art form, in particular looking at Film and Theatre. Vernon is co-president of the Black Student Association, a residential advisor, a tour guide, multicultural ambassador, member of Muhlenberg Theatre Association, and Muhlenberg Film Association.
Molly: Where are you from and what made you choose Muhlenberg?
Vernon: I’m from Philly and what made me choose Muhlenberg? Like two or three key things. The first was that weird feeling you get on campus where you’re like I know this is the school I’m coming to. Second, was the amount of financial aid I received here. Third, were the people I met here and how my audition experience was and my interview.
Molly: What’s it like coming from such a big cosmopolitan city like Philly to a small school and the town of Allentown?
Vernon: Coming from a big city like Philly into Allentown, I remember driving to the city and thinking “where are the skyscrapers? This is not a city! It’s like a block!” (laughs). But it’s not too different from Philly other than the size. Sometimes when I go off campus or I think okay I need to be away from Muhlenberg for a few minutes, I walk down the street and it feels very much like where I’ve grown up.
Molly: How often do you venture off campus?
Vernon: I would say maybe twice a week. That’s if I’m lucky. Once a week definitely.
Molly: Where do you go?
Vernon: Well I go to the community bike works and sometimes I just jog into Allentown.
Molly: Do you think there are new things for students to find in the valley if they were to go out and look?
Vernon: I’m sure there are and I think 19th street is evolving and hopefully more places like that will evolve. Directly, Allentown isn’t really a college town. It’s not suited for college kids and if there are things to do we generally don’t know because everything’s here on the Muhlenberg campus. And so if I don’t go out to something that’s there for me then my friends won’t go and then their friends won’t go and then maybe that business that’s not getting the college customers that they thought they’d have, would have to shut down. I’m not saying that’s a fact but I think it’s a possibility. Students just don’t venture into Allentown. We go to the Farmers Market but that’s just down the street. Let’s take a trip to the comic book store that’s just like two more blocks down, you know?
Molly: Why do you think Muhlenberg students aren’t really venturing off campus?
Vernon: Right now we have the cardinal shuttle which takes students to points in Allentown and that’s really great! I’m so happy that it’s there! But in a very strange way, Muhlenberg is very separate from Allentown, and Allentown is very separate from Muhlenberg. We don’t really claim one another. You know when you take a tour here there’s hardly any mention that we’re in the city of Allentown. Unless we’re talking about the campus police. Unless we’re talking about “oh there’s the blue light” and a parent asks how safe do you feel on campus in Allentown? And we answer by saying oh I feel safe there are people coming in from “Allentown” and when they ask you what you do we just say we stay on campus because that’s what we do. There’s no relationship there between Muhlenberg and Allentown. And then a lot of students are discouraged and think we don’t need to go into Allentown because there’s nothing for us to do there, and then there’s this stigma of Allentown being this dangerous place. And you know you get those reports of this person is on the loose, and that’s valid there’s crime happening, but there’s crime everywhere. It’s not like Allentown is just this BAD disgusting malevolent city. No it’s just a city. There are good parts and bad parts. It’s like the theatre trips. People don’t say I don’t want to go to New York because it’s dangerous. So it just has a stigma.
Molly: You were in the 2013 Sedehi Diversity Play. The topic of going into Allentown came up. Can you elaborate on the ensemble’s research or thoughts on that topic?
Vernon: I had a line in the play that was something along the lines of “this is your home for four years. Allentown is your home, not Muhlenberg. If you went to NYU and never discovered the city of New York, you’d look like a dumbass.” That was one of the key lines about Allentown. In our actual conversations about Allentown a lot that came up was about the socioeconomic background and the ethnic background of the Allentown community. It’s largely Hispanic and so there are a lot of Spanish speaking brown people or other black and brown folk. And I think for the majority of campus we don’t know what to do with that. We don’t know how to interact with that beyond a community service thing. There’s a brown Spanish speaking person walking through campus and everyone freaks out. Or we say who’s that walking on campus? But they’re residents of Allentown and they live here too just like we do. Some people have never been in a place where there are people who are not white English speaking people. Or white English speaking well off people.
Molly: What solutions do you think the school could offer to encourage people to go off campus?
Vernon: Definitely the cardinal shuttle. I’m praying that that stays. I definitely think that during orientation and throughout the entire application process the focus on Allentown should be fixed. I feel like there’s no focus on Allentown and there should be a focus on the city. My first choice was Temple. When you go to Temple, Philly’s a part of that area. When you go to UPenn, Philly is a part of that area. When you go to Lehigh, I’m pretty sure Bethlehem is a part of that area. And when you come to Muhlenberg, Allentown is not a part of that area. Whether that be from an orientation standpoint or even having a direct motion from the president or having Muhlenberg sponsor a business and having that business sponsor Allentown. My high school was a trade school but we had a relationship with the church that was across the street from us. And they sponsored a lot of things and we sponsored them and we had this really cool unique relationship. I know there’s HYPE where Allentown youth work with Media and Comm majors, but even more programs like that that are more widely spread throughout campus. And our library is open so that people can go, but maybe not every Allentown citizen knows that. I get the sense that a lot of the youth in Allentown see that the buildings are here but they’re not actually seeing Muhlenberg just like we’re not really seeing them.
Photo provided by Vernon Jordan