I thought living in a sorority house was going to be exactly like the opening scene of “Legally Blonde”: girls braiding each other’s hair, sleepovers in the living room and everyone helping a girl get ready for a date. Obviously, because of the pandemic we are currently living through, things look a little different in my house.
Masks are worn everywhere, there are limits to when we can use certain rooms and people tend to keep their distance. Sometimes I do miss playing pong in a basement that has some strange liquid dripping down the walls and making friends with people in bathrooms lacking toilet paper just as much as the next girl. The pandemic has robbed all of us of experiences that can never be replaced, and the impulse to go out and party is often very strong. But I have a very good reason to resist these impulses: I’m from Ann Arbor.
I was born and raised in this quaint little town. I know it for warm summers on the Huron River and weekends spent at the Hands-On Museum. I learned to drive downtown, navigating the perpetual construction and taking back alleys and detours that led nowhere. And yes, Ann Arbor is primarily known for the University of Michigan, but it has always been so much more.
It’s a town where people are unreasonably friendly, where nights at Top of the Park are practically a high school reunion, where liberal soccer moms can always find a gluten-free option, where there is a tangible pride in the air on late July nights.
Sorority rush this past weekend has shown me that this pride truly radiates throughout campus. These freshmen, who have had the most abnormal Michigan experience, still talk of their pride in their school. This isn’t because of the University. With no in-person classes, a shortened dorm experience and no game days to revel in our renowned school spirit, this pride in our school must come from somewhere else: the city itself.
Ann Arbor natives are proud of this school and of their town, and it shows. Over four-fifths of Michigan football’s season ticket holders are non-students, coming to campus each gameday and flooding the Big House. School spirit radiates through campus and is echoed throughout the streets of this small town. Even now, my neighbors gather on their patio every football Saturday to tailgate and watch the game as a community.
However, students at the University have been harming the Ann Arbor community this year. Underground frat parties, ill-conceived social gatherings and oh-so-elusive Tinder hookups have contributed to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Washtenaw County. The University’s cases represented 60% of the county’s cases in mid-October, despite representing less than 15% of the county’s population. The Starbucks baristas and bus drivers that once smiled at our maize-colored sweatshirts now roll their eyes, wishing we weren’t around.
College students, you owe it to Ann Arbor to be better. This town, no matter how long you’ve been here, has given you a place to call home. The rent may be sky high and South U may never be truly open again, but Ann Arbor has given you friends, pizza and far too many bubble tea places for any one person to try. It is a community of people passionate about changing the world in their own unique ways, which is what drew so many students here in the first place. It used to be our secret pride.
Now, it’s honestly embarrassing to tell family and friends about my school. My stories are now met only with worried glances and timid questions of safety. I am ashamed of the “Leaders and the Best” who want so badly to get wasted on a Friday night that they can’t help but do so and risk other people’s lives. These are the lives of my community members. This is my home. Ann Arborites have poured their unwavering love and support into the University for almost two centuries. The least we can do is return the favor.
Thus, I end my letter with a simple plea. Next Friday, when the Law Quad crows are beginning their nightly journey toward the medical campus, put on your cutest outfit and FaceTime your best friend. Watch “Twilight” or “The Kissing Booth” or any other absurdly bad teen movie and invent your own drinking game. While this may not compare to the fun of pong on a porch, it might ensure that one more grandparent can join their family at the stadium next year.
Mrinalini Iyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.