I love icebreaker questions. I know that is probably an annoying thing to hear, but the idea of learning what major people are, where they grew up, some random fact they chose to share, and what year they are is really exciting to me. UMass has almost 30,000 students, but as I learn more and more every day, I realize that the UMass community is filled with small world connections and people who somehow know each other. The main way to figure out where people are from is (obviously) to ask, and when I transferred here in January 2020, a lot of people had a lot of different reactions when I shared where I was from, and not all of them were necessarily good.
When UMass students reveal to each other where they went to school or which town they grew up in, most of the time there is a connection to be made. However, with me, it’s never an “oh do you know this person,” with a never-ending conversation. Instead, it stops at the response of “oh I know where that is,” or the occasional, “I just went there.”
Yes, I am from Northampton. The place with a “gothic” Urban Outfitters that went viral on TikTok. The place with the rainbow sidewalk, niche restaurants, quaint cafes, stores with stationery, books, colorful trinkets, and clothes for any occasion. The 20 minute drive that takes people across the Connecticut River connects my forever home to my new home, and allows UMass students to escape Amherst for the day and visit what so many people view as this “artsy,” “cool,” and “vibey” city.
The conversation doesn’t seem to go beyond the surface level. In large part, that comes from the idea that not that many people from my high school go to UMass compared to other schools, but it did become clear to me that my hometown is where UMass’ students go on day trips, and there isn’t much else to talk about beyond that.
I think college towns in this area attract people for specific reasons. But sometimes it feels like Northampton is all about what it provides for visitors, not what it has always provided for residents.
I have met students from UMass who didn’t think that Northampton actually had houses. The ironic thing is that no matter what direction you drive in, what route you take if you go from campus to downtown, you will pass by houses. Houses where people lived, live, and will live in. It seems like when I talk about where I am from, the conversation ends or always circles back to the basics: Herrell’s, Iron Horse Music Hall, and a mix of bars, coffee shops, and stores. These Northampton staples provide so much for the city and surrounding towns, but the depth of Northampton is in large part from its history, the beauty that lies beyond the perimeter of the busiest area and the people who I was lucky to grow up around.
I love talking about Northampton. I love that people do too. Ask more questions about it. Discover what’s beyond downtown. Don’t fall into the tourist trap. Northampton is an incredible place to have close by to your college campus, so don’t let it slip away.