Over this Spring Break, I realized Knoxville is home.
Like most of us, I was pretty sick and tired of Knoxville by the time break rolled around and desperate to leave — and that's just what I did. I was lucky enough to be playing some music over the break and got to travel around to other college towns, stopping briefly in Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Memphis and Oxford.
Students at each of these towns told a similar story: There's no town quite like ours, the weather here is crazy, it's not perfect, but it's a great place to be young and in college. And as I listened to each of these students talk about their college town, I realized I feel the same way about Knoxville.
But Knoxville isn't the same as Oxford or Chapel Hill. When school is out in Oxford, Miss., the town goes into hibernation. The endless streams of girls in baggy T-shirts and boys in button downs aren't there to walk the streets and buy from their businesses. And Chapel Hill wouldn't even be on a map without the University of North Carolina calling it home. That's what makes these places college towns – they revolve around their colleges.
Memphis or Charlotte, on the other hand, aren't college towns at all – they're cities. Sure, they happen to have universities, but what happens on campus doesn't mean much to the rest of the people in the city. Memphis doesn't depend on the actions of students at Rhodes, and Charlotte will be Charlotte no matter what Northeastern is doing.
Knoxville, then, is neither a college town nor a big city. It is, in a sense, a college city.
Here's what I mean. Like it or not, Knoxville is a city. It has its own parks and a little bit of traffic and places to see concerts from national acts. We house the national headquarters of TVA, Regal Cinemas and Pilot, who bring in a combined $40 billion dollars a year in revenue. We also have the problems of a city — income inequality, homelessness and crime.
At the same time, the university is an integral part of Knoxville. Market Square is packed with students and families on nights and weekends, but a ghost town if there's a Vols game on. The whole city shuts down on Saturdays in the fall, and the city's mood the next morning depends on whether or not our team won or lost.
More important than the sports community in Knoxville is just how much the city is still coming into its own.
Bob Kronick, an educational psychologist at UT, has revitalized the Pond Gap community through his work with elementary school kids and their families. Market Square, now the cultural center of the city, was run-down until around 10 years ago, when then-Mayor Bill Haslam pumped resources into revitalizing the downtown area.
So what does this mean to us as students? Why should we care about the fact we live in a "college city"?
Personally, I view it as the best of both worlds. You can have the community of a campus with (sort of) the cultural diversity of a city. If you take a stop in the Old City, you'll run into professionals and artists as well as your friends from school.
Living in a city like Knoxville also presents us with a responsibility to engage with our community. This can mean volunteering and working at one of the many non-profits that benefit the Knoxville area.
It can also mean things as simple as voting to protect our rights — Beacon columnist Wade Scofield already pointed out that if the student body all voted against Stacey Campfield, he'd lose by a landslide.
This is especially relevant as upperclassmen start making decisions as to where to live next year. Knoxville already has a lot going for it — it's incredibly cheap to live here, and the community is comfortable and vibrant. These are good reasons to stay in Knoxville.
But the main reason I'm thinking about staying in Knoxville is that Knoxville actually cares I exist. I can be more than just a drop in the bucket, but still live in (pretty much) a city.
That's why I think Knoxville is one of a kind, and that's why it feels like home.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at email@example.com.