Choosing Sides

Steve Nordin

Wisconsin residents voted for the office of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice April 5. The election for the court this year was perceived as having very important partisan implications. One ad described the incumbent, Justice David Prosser, as a “rubber stamp for [Governor] Scott Walker”.

Though students statewide reacted strongly to Gov. Walker’s anti-union policies in the powerful form of altered Facebook profile pictures and statuses, many Lawrentians did not vote.

While it is easy for a cynical Op/Ed writer to use the buzzwords “student apathy,” there is certainly a simpler and better answer: We couldn’t get to the polling stations, as they were off-campus and divided over three voting districts.

If you use the whole of Appleton’s population, there should be about 1,170 Appletonians per aldermanic ward in this city. There are a little over 1,500 students at Lawrence. Lawrence could numerically justify a representative on the City Council.

To the contrary, students are divided up among the 3rd, 21st and 26th districts, dependent on residence hall. I can understand the city’s rationale: Our votes are essentially negated by non-students in the same district, so we can’t vote some sophomoric demagogue into the city council.

Side note: Should redistricting ever result in a Lawrence-heavy district, I would happily be that sophomoric demagogue.

I can accept the decision to split Lawrence over multiple districts. Students still can vote if the university or student groups provide transportation to the polling places, which they unfortunately did not for this election.

What is of greater concern to me is the mutually-held perception of Lawrentians not being Appletonians, a disconnect between “Town and Gown.”

When local high school students roll past in their mothers’ 1996 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, loudly speculate on the sexual identification of a passing Lawrentian and high-five each other as they speed off to Taco Bell, the term “townie” graces my lips, in conjunction with several other choice words and gestures.

University/town tension is nothing new. In response to Oxford students tossing their drinks in a local barkeep’s face and beating him up, locals shot and scalped anyone wearing an academic gown in the St. Scholastica’s Day Riot of 1355.

In comparison, the drunk and overweight barfly slurring “come at me, brah” outside the Wooden Nickel is a laughable prospect.

Yet townies staff our buildings, teach our classes, audit our courses, respond to our neglected popcorn on Friday nights, patrol our streets, say hello to us on the street and some walk among us as fellow students.

Also, as a rural Wisconsinite, I tend to roll my eyes when my classmates frequently hum the tune from “Deliverance”, bombard me with scare quotes at any mention of the Fox Cities, or complain when the APD enforce the law on campus.

Neither Appleton nor Lawrence University would exist as such without the other.

Lawrentians volunteer at many local institutions. We bring huge amounts of money to the community, especially along College Avenue. Some of us find jobs nearby, settle down and raise families here. Sarah Appleton was the wife of Amos Lawrence. The city was chartered 10 years after the college and was a simple fur trading post.

If Lawrentians only see the local blubbery dullard or drive-by provocateur, the concept of “townies” will always exist and affect our relations with the community.

If our insular behavior continues to support the perception of us unto Appleton as American Olympic athlete unto foreign hotel room, our presence will be resented.

The cycle is self-perpetuating.

We can’t change the behavior of Appletonians. What students can do is alter our behavior so that we do not reinforce the Lawrence Bubble. Go to the Performing Arts Center, stray from College Ave., participate in city events, build connections to those around you.

In short, don’t be surprised that hiding on campus and sneering at the broader community from on high has a negative impact on our public image. To expect otherwise is to be unrealistic.

Neither side is going to “win.” Everyone, like it or not, is a “townie.”

Top