As it stands, not everyone gets excited about this time of year. It's move-in week at the University of Illinois, and life in Champaign-Urbana is about to get a lot busier. Hopefully, those of us who live here year-round will welcome the students back with open arms (and foots hovering gently over the brake pedal).
As long as I've lived here (which has been my entire life), it seems there has been a love/hate relationship between townies and students. Folks seem to like that a university is situated here, along with many of the financial benefits it brings to the community, they're just not so enamored with those pesky students.
Fair enough, I suppose. With the students comes higher foot and automobile traffic, but that seems a small price to pay for the good they bring to the community.
I, for one, welcome the students back to town. On the one hand, selfishly, it's because their presence provides myself (and everyone else who works for the university) with a job. Additionally, I've always appreciated the hustle and bustle that thousands of students provides our community nine months out of the year. I miss it when they're gone. There's an energy and vitality missing during the summer that makes a welcome return every August. And, yes, there's typically a lot more to do around town when the students are here.
While we've made some headway in providing more entertainment and learning experiences during the summer months, it cannot be denied that C-U's prime time for events comes during the Fall and Spring semesters. Whether it's a show at Krannert Center, a concert at State Farm Center, a football, basketball, hockey, or volleyball game, or lecture series by visiting scholars, there is an undeniable cornucopia of things to do here, all because the students, too, are here.
The presence of our student body also provides a wonderful diversity of humanity within our fair cities and their environs. A short walk on campus can often mean hearing several different languages being spoken along the way. You can come across the garbs and traditions of different cultures, from bindis to hijabs to overalls. From Europe to Asia to the fields of good ol' Illinois, our campus has folks from so many corners of the globe. And, it's always an adventure running the gauntlet out back of the Illini Union, with various student organizations vying for your attention, hoping you will purchase food or tickets from them.
If the feel-good, multi-cutural stuff doesn't sway you, then think of the financial benefit our students bring to the community. They shop, eat, live and work here. They pay taxes. They are an economic engine unto themselves that C-U benefits from greatly — more than can be properly explained here.
In truth, I feel bad for folks living year-long in the community who proudly proclaim (or say with a sneer) that they never visit campus town while the students are around. They're missing out. Sure, the traffic can be frustrating at times, and it would be nice to have pedestrians who look before they walk. But even despite those things, the student body helps make Champaign-Urbana the extraordinary place that it is. This is their home, too. And I think we're all that much the better for it.
(Photo of students moving in by the University of Illinois Admissions)