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Welcome Back Golden Bears: But Please go Home

As Golden Bears we love Kutztown, not just the university, but the town that houses us 9 months out of the year. Whether you come here as a freshman or transfer like I did, it’s easy to fall in love with the borough of Kutztown and it’s small-town charm, like the new pocket park across from Donut Lovers Bloom. The campus is beautiful, as we all know, but there’s nothing like Main Street. Main Street is smelling the handmade soaps over at Paisley and Co, grabbing a drink and food at the Tavern, or getting an impulsive tattoo at Lucky 13. If you live off-campus maybe you grab your morning coffee at Bagel Bar before heading up the hill to classes, or maybe you stop at Mr. Food to grab a snack for later. At night the activity centers around the back alleys, Shortys, and the K’Town Pub, not to mention the house parties strung across town, all creating a web of young adults in various states of intoxication. Students seem to be the life and blood of the town. No one can argue that Kutztown is more active than when school is in session.

When students aren’t in town the town changes and slows to adjust for the loss in business.It becomes quieter with less car and foot traffic, especially at night. Last summer was my first taste of this as I moved into an apartment off-campus and worked for one of the restaurants close by. Partying because finals are over bleeds into moving out,  accompanied by U-hauls flooding the streets, cars, and vans parked illegally in fire zones, and furniture ranging from dressers to TV’s, mini-fridges, and busted mattresses piled precariously on one another in alleys across town. Once the U-Hauls leave, Kutztown is left to become the family friendly version you catch glimpses while semesters are in session . You see all types of people around town that appear from the woodworks, as if they were all in hibernation ‘til the 20-year-olds vacated. The town becomes alive in a different way, as the days get hotter and summer thunderstorms flood the town. Festivals are hosted at Renningers Farmers Market, events like dinner on Main where the restaurants do service with seating outside, and local bands play in the park every Saturday night. Businesses especially use this time to take much-needed vacations. Summer in Kutztown can be idyllic in small-town ways. The little borough of Kutztown, with it’s 5,000 or so year-round residents, takes a long breath in the summer, inhaling the calm of slower-paced days, slowly counting down the inevitable return of the students.


This past spring break businesses all over town prepared for the students to be gone for a week, adjusted their hours and staff, or took their own break to match, planning to reopen with the University. That never happened. With the University closed little to no faculty, staff, or students were left around Kutztown, except those that lived in the area year-round. Instead of the normal giant exodus, Moving Out season happened with no Partying season preceding it. It was gradual, as some apartments vacated shortly after spring break, with more moving out as the semester concluded. Those on campus were moved out by April. The shutdown closed more doors on Main than it didn’t, leaving a lucky few of us in the food industry to trudge along with options for takeout and delivery. But without the students, without faculty, with our neighboring businesses at home, the town died.


Or it felt as if it did, so harsh was the sudden contrast of life. Running to the grocery store and Bagel Bar were the majority of my outings this spring, and seeing places like Deturks, Kutztown Printing, and Image Hair Salon closed every day felt like a twilight zone where it was always a strange time in which it was too early or too late for any of them to be open. I remember those first few weeks of the shutdown, I couldn’t get the silence out of my head. I relished in it for the first few weeks; despite the overwhelming declaration of a pandemic I enjoyed the sudden quiet. Primarily because I live on Main, with windows right off the street, so I get to have prime access to the sounds of partying, hear the clang of a 16-wheeler’s, the clop of horses pulling their buggy, and the shouts of people across the street to someone they recognize. I mean it’s really not enjoyable hearing drunk 19-year-olds scream outside your window Thursday through Sunday, ill-meaning or not. But the drunk yelling wasn’t the only thing to stop. There was no friendly banter from the mailman, much fewer horses clopping by at midnight, and parking on Main street was the least crowded I have ever seen. March sludged into April, which sludged slower into May and the silence lingered. It became, as everyone loves to say now, “the new normal.”  The restaurants around town adjusted their ways of business to work with the CDC recommended restrictions, and people were good about how often they went out, social distancing, and wearing a mask. The first few months of the shutdown blended together seamlessly, the town was dead and the mood not helped by winter’s continued presence. 

When the Yellow and subsequent Green phases started in early summer, the remaining business around town opened, and Kutztown began to live once again. Families could be seen eating ice cream outside Pop’s, and the tattoo-parlour, hair salon, boutiques, and dine-in restaurants all rejoiced in having customers once again, finally.  As the green phase continued, there began to be dissonance in Kutztown surrounding safety measures for the continued pandemic, one that echoes all across America. Businesses had to start reinforcing that masks be worn, as well as continually keep their sanitation and distancing up to current CDC guidelines. The shops along Main street for the majority enforce the best safety measures they can, but even though masks have been deemed necessary out in public by Governor Wolf since April, businesses have had to consistently remind their patronage to please follow the same guidelines they are following; it’s no more than a tit for tat, am I right?

If the beginning of the Green phase felt crazy, the beginning of August hit like a bitch, and slapped me back to what seemed like an impossible reality: Students returning to Kutztown.  The abrupt departure of so many of students was mirrored by their sudden return. It seemed overnight that U-Hauls and illegally parked minivans once again lined Main st, traffic at Noble st.  was backed up, and more people than I’d seen in months were walking down the street again, laughing and shouting filled the air.  Brimming with people along the street, Kutztown is now active again. Some head to shops and others grab some food after finally moving in. Their return off and on-campus has already influenced business across town, some restaurants that had been closed since spring break finally reopened, while those of us whose stayed open throughout have increased business. But it’s a bit of a catch 22, while the businesses are profiting financially, the health risk for employees has risen, as many take little to no measures while out in public on the street, eating, or grabbing food, walking their dog, biking, etc. With so much increased contact, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the United States is still struggling to maintain coronavirus spread, and Kutztown is no exception

The almost daily influx of more students moving back happened because the University was insistent on its ability to make in-person classes and campus safe for all involved. However, the University has announced as of today, Friday August 21st, only 5-6% of classes are meeting fully in person, around 30% will be hybrid with at least one optional in-person meeting per week, and around 60% are fully online. This comes as a response to outcries from students, alumni, staff, faculty, and community members that Kutztown wasn’t doing enough in terms of safety for their faculty, staff and students. There was an open letter sent to the administration, as well as protests yesterday, the 20th, on campus. 

At the beginning of the month, the University was adamant in it’s plans to reopen, with constant email updates, many with just reiterated information, or confusing non statements, including an address from President Hawkins himself. The message fell short for me as it never really addressed specifics on  how students should conduct themselves in this changed learning environment; the majority of the message was spent praising fortitude of the working class, 

"I am impressed by the bravery of young people working in restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses wherein they interact with hundreds of people each day.  I note the fortitude of their parents who work in factories and other work sites that require in-person interaction among employees.  We, too, must show this fortitude – yes, this grit – that defines who we are.” 

It's a nice sentiment, but as I watched the businesses around me struggle to maintain safety for their employee’s while maintaining it for their customers, hearing platitudes of my “grit” for working during a pandemic in which some don’t seem to care for my safety by doing simple proactive measures was eye roll inducing.

Although the students have brought some life back, I fear they bring with them death as well. While the University is doing it’s best to make life on campus be safe but stay the same, this is a totally different kind of semester. The kind of socialization you may be used to while here in Kutztown isn’t really possible, you should limit the friends you see to a specific cohort and avoid parties, especially indoor ones! In fact, campus security and the borough are planning on types of disciplinary actions for students who fail to comply with safety measures. It may seem an overreacting to you, you just wanna have fun, it was a really hard spring after all!  But consider this key aspect from President Hawkins message in early August:

"But Kutztown University is not a thing in and of itself – we don’t reside on an island – we are fully integrated into our town and region and our 9,000 employees and students interact on a daily, if not hourly, basis with the many businesses, agencies, companies, schools, and broader communities all around us.”

This is true, and I urge you, my fellow Golden Bears to take to heart the lives of the community members and fellow students you come across, especially those as employees at a business you frequent. Consider your barista, your pizza delivery driver, your tattoo artist. Maintain safe measures while going to a business in town, and stay home when you don’t need to be out - there aren't as many things to do in town anyway, trust me. Save some money and help protect others by staying home whenever you can. Both steps combined help protect those who are in position of serving you, while they practice the same measures for yours. This pandemic has taught me to think of our interactions with others as a web, each one interconnected in a way much more intricate and delicate than first meets the eye. Which, if they’re properly attired, is all you can really see of someone anyhow.

"What are you going to do with an Art History degree?" A great many things, just wait and see. 
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