The University of Connecticut, founded in 1881, is located in the town of Mansfield. Within Mansfield, UConn is specifically in the village of Storrs. Not only do many students not know this confusing little quirk, but the university as a whole seems to have lost sight of this fact.
What I’m trying to say with this is that UConn is insular. Yes, once students move off campus and get a car the greater area becomes open to them, but I have found a staggering number of people who don’t even know of the next town over. For the record, it’s Windham.
As someone living in the area full-time, this fact has always irked me. People will excuse it by talking about how Willimantic (the city area of Windham) is impoverished, or how it’s hard to get transportation to anywhere, but these issues are by no means insurmountable. Yale is right in the middle of New Haven. UConn has plenty of buses available, especially on weekends.
It seems apparent, then, that UConn just doesn’t want their students to leave. Maybe the local denizens of Mansfield, many of whom do not particularly like UConn students, prefer it this way as well. Like children of overbearing parents, students are grounded by the powers that be until they learn to just accept it. Perhaps once in a while they throw us a bone like Storrs center, but measures like these often fail at their goals and are nonetheless insufficient.
Make no mistake, this is a problem for everyone. It is a common joke that drinking is especially rampant here because there’s nothing else to do on the weekends, a joke made funnier by just how true it is. Businesses also suffer, like the dying East Brook Mall on the other side of town (yes, we have a mall in Mansfield). For many places in the area, an influx of young people with some disposable income would be a boon, and yet, it still is not!
I fully admit that buses can be a bit awkward with scheduling. The idea might not even catch on at first, as UConn students have been conditioned to stay on campus. Once people see that there is a world outside of Storrs, though, it will work. Club members will be able to see relevant options in neighboring towns. Service and community-building trips can be organized. There are so many opportunities waiting to be explored, but this system needs to be put in place and advertised heavily.
It’s all simply a matter of student ignorance, through no fault of their own. Did you know that there is a theater, a drive-in, a Walmart, a McDonald’s, a nationally known breakfast place, an acting group, and a game store in the area? Did you know that all of these things are no more than a 15 minute drive from UConn? Again, we even have a mall in Mansfield, although we won’t for long if nothing changes.
I understand that there are forces out there trying to fix this glaring oversight. U-Pass was actually a great start, allowing UConn students to get to most places for free. The immediate area needs more, though. UConn needs to integrate better with the nearby community for everyone’s benefit. There is no reason that an institution so far removed from, well, everything should be as insular as we are.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.