My summer living situation is what the literary world would call ironic.
It began last summer when I signed up for a Maymester course that would cleverly count as both my fine arts and experiential education credit. The enlightening class concerned the African-American history of Chapel Hill.
As a class, we participated in the production of a play formed from the stories of actual area residents. Titled “Because We’re Still Here (And Moving),” the play was an inventive product of Hidden Voices, a nonprofit organization that works to enact change by sharing the stories of under-represented populations.
I learned a great deal of community history, from the slaves who worked for the University to Mama Dip’s opening the town’s first African-American owned restaurant.
One poignant issue made clear was the contemporary gentrification of this historic area. From Columbia Street to the McDonald’s on Franklin Street, this Northside community has historically housed working-class African Americans. The area has recently struggled in dealing with hordes of house-hunting college students.
Having been conditioned to live in small spaces from dorm life, multiple students cram themselves into the subdivided rooms of historic houses-turned-communes, lowering the rent per person and increasing affordability.
Don’t get me wrong, the University and its students have historically been the source of money that has sustained this low-income area. But the influx of 20-somethings drives up the value of the area, raising property taxes for the already underprivileged community members.
While strained economics is a side effect, gentrification often socially couples with racism. The social irresponsibility and disrespect exhibited by many students fosters much of the antagonism and has been a vocalized problem for residents.
Now, back to that irony. I moved into one of these very residences this summer.