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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wake up and smell the city

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year – for the past few days, the UA campus has been buzzing with activity, as thousands of students stream in like a flash flood after a summer monsoon. The signs are everywhere: freshmen piling into precariously overbooked residence halls; waits at the bookstore rivaling the bread line in Leningrad; and the untimely extinction of our most endangered species – the convenient parking space.

    But amid the chaos that pervades the end of the summer and the beginning of another academic year, keep something in mind. You’re not just coming back to campus. You’re coming back to Tucson.

    It’s entirely possible to spend four (or five, or six) comfortable years at the university without ever venturing beyond campus or far outside the fragile bubble of student life. With convenient housing in university dorms and nearby homes and apartments, scads of restaurants on- and off-campus catering to students and the plethora of entertainment options afforded by 30,000 exuberant co-eds, why would anyone in their right mind want to leave?

    That’s just the problem. Safely confined within our red-brick microcosm of the outside world, many students fail to recognize how important the university is to the Tucson community – or to realize that Sixth and Campbell isn’t the edge of the known world. For too many, college is little more than a four-year stay at “”U of A Hotel.”” Check in your freshman year, stay for a while and check out with a degree. Of course, there’s no need to disrupt the perfect vacation with the uncomfortable vagaries of reality – U of A Hotel is an all-inclusive resort. Just like at one of those chic retreats stuck in the middle of a Third World country, you’ll never need to come into contact with the surrounding city, dismissed by so many as dumb, dull and dirty.

    This bizarre perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Tucson is in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, one of the most vibrant and fascinating ecosystems in the world. The city has a thriving, home-grown arts community. Our proximity to the border has created a unique culture in which centuries of history collide. It’s shameful to graduate without hiking in the green forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains, watching the bizarre Downtown procession on Day of the Dead or tasting the crispy fried shell of Tucson’s most famous creation – the chimichanga.

    More importantly, few UA students realize the massive influence of our campus upon the surrounding community. The most recent UA economic-impact study estimates that the university has a total dollar impact of $2.3 billion on the state economy. The UA is the second-largest employer in Tucson, and one in 10 workers living in Pima County are directly employed by or somehow connected with the university. Not to mention the fact that our student body could populate a legitimate city.

    UA students are a crucial part of the Tucson community, and they have a duty to care about it. Sure, your time in Tucson may be temporary, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to shirk your civic responsibilities. Go ahead and complain all you want about city policies like red-tagging or traffic congestion around town, but things won’t change unless you get out of your dorm room and do something. In fact, there’s an opportunity this year – upcoming city council elections this fall will give students a chance to shape Tucson’s future.

    Of course, there are plenty of students who do great work in the community outside our campus. UA students volunteer countless hours each year working with local organizations, and they deserve recognition. But the fact that so many opportunities for engagement are out there merely makes it more embarrassing for those who don’t take advantage of them.

    A stay at U of A Hotel can be pleasant, relaxing and fun. Ultimately, however, staying within the shelter of campus without becoming a part of the world around it is as vapid as any mindless summer vacation at a trendy resort.

    Like it or not, if you attend the UA, you’re not just a Wildcat. You’re a Tucsonan.

    Connor Mendenhall is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies and the Opinions Editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at

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