Chapter 7. The Neighborhood: Sleep, Eat, Pray
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79 Chapter 7 The Neighborhood Sleep, Eat, Pray T he life of a young man drawn to the new Illinois Industrial University, an all-men’s school that opened in a single building in late winter 1868, was full of everything except fun. Not only did the university pioneers have to wear a cadet-gray uniform reminiscent of West Point—standing collar, singlebreasted vest, dark-blue welt on the outside seams—but they had to do two hours of manual labor a day, drill three hours a week, and march to and from mandatory chapel. This on top of attending classes, studying, and preparing their own meals. Warpspeedtotoday:arecord44,800studentsinfall2016 (33,467 undergraduates, and 24 percent of all students from outside the United States) and almost eleven thousand faculty, professional,andsupportstafftogether,creatingalearningand living community that fills a sprawling and vibrant campus. What links the earliest and the most recent cohort of U of I students is youth—a potent stew of energy, recklessness, imagination, restlessness, idealism, silliness, eagerness, and rebelliousness. The Urbana-Champaign campus, as many of its Big Ten peers, remains a residential university, or as one recent U of I president put it, “a classic campus,” dominated by eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds. In times past, ambitious young people would champion causes: a new name, legalizing social Greek organizations, forming an athletic association,and ending mandatory chapel. The twice-monthly Illini simply and boldly printed the name “University of Illinois” on the newspaper’s masthead in 1881, four years before the state legislature acted on the name change. In 1887, students drafted a constitution for the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Association, wrangled faculty approval two years later, and two more years after that raised money to build a sports field—Illinois Field—on the north campus. The story of the place of the University of Illinois, yesterday and today, is also a story of life in that place. For every hour spent in the classroom, lab, or library, more hours are spent simply living: In the twenty-first century, that means working low-pay jobs, hanging with friends, working out at the ARC, cruising the Green Street circuit, eating pizza, drinking beer, and, maybe, going to church or synagogue, all the while electronically and chronically hooked to smart phones and social networks. What follows is a fragmentary and episodic look at life in the ‘hood back in the day. 80 —— Chapter 7 —— were first admitted in 1870, featuring “a parlor, dining room, kitchen, laundry, and music room,” but this was short lived. The university’s first student housing venture began to end on an April night in 1880 when a windstorm—some say a tornado—ripped off the west wing of the Elephant. Soon enough, the board of trustees declared “the old Dormitory” unsafe for occupancy. It was razed the following year after an arson attempt. And the university would not return to the business of student housing for a complex of reasons spanning nearly forty years. Local residents already had opened boardinghouses that catered to the growing student population. Longtime dean of men Thomas Arkle Clark considered some boardinghouse operators honorable stand-in parents, earning “the greatest respect by all classes of citizens” because they treated student boarders well. “They took the keenest personal interest in students and gave many of the comforts and kindnesses of home for the $2.25 or $2.50 a week which the undergraduate student handed over for his board,” Clark wrote. “Some of these sensible and level-headed women did quite as much in the training and disciplining of the raw fellows . . . as did the men who were in the regular faculty.” Clark said that in the early days some students—the cool kids—lived in boardinghouses far from campus—in the “more attractive part of Champaign about the [downtown West Side] park” or in Urbana near the business district. This pattern changed around the turn of the century when most students began to cluster in houses near campus. Clark told a story about a student who, before going off to college in 1903, received and took advice on where to live from his much-older brother. “Now, Alexander,” the brother cautioned, “don’t make the mistake of getting a room near the University. If you want to make a good social start, get a room on West Hill street near the Presbyterian church, where the better class of students live. Keep away from the East Side.” So Alexander rented a...