I first encountered the Kerrytown neighborhood when I came to Ann Arbor for freshman orientation in July of 2018. My partner had driven me up to Michigan, and we found a current student to stay with for the night. The house was a mustard color with large curvy windows, as if it were inspired by a funhouse. It had a huge attic and was shaped like no other home I’d ever seen. Many of the rooms looked like they were closets or huge study spaces renovated into bedrooms.
Our room for the night had a twin sized bed with hundreds of theatre posters lining on the wall. We had to squish together in that bed so as not to fall off, and the Ann Arbor air was muggy — we immediately wet the bed with our sweat, but it was kind of fun. It was a little adventure — coming to a new town and staying in an eclectic house, in an odd little room.
In the morning, I stepped outside onto the porch to take a deep breath of the Michigan air. A college student on a bike flew past while a girl in a co-op across the street was swinging on a swing. I found the scene exhilarating: seeing so much commotion in one neighborhood. The people who surrounded me at that moment seemed grounded, and that they might take me in and give me a cup of tea. They seemed like the kind of people who would take me to Burning Man and help me home if I found myself in a K-Hole. Although the connection was immediate, I had no idea that Kerrytown would be my home for the next three years of my college career.
As a theatre major myself, it was natural to live in a house with other theatre majors for my sophomore year of college. The entire theatre department seemed to live in Kerrytown, and thus my residence began. We moved into the big artsy house that I had always longed for: there was a huge attic and a very spacious basement, perfect for playing beer pong or setting up a little lounge area. My friends and I lived it up in our little residential neighborhood. Bands played at houses on the weekend, people used chalk to draw on the street and yard sales with blaring music frequented our lawns. It was a happy, wonderful environment, and it barely ever registered with me that I could be living elsewhere, that there was an entire other region of campus with its own distinct culture.
I came to South Campus for the first time during my freshman year for a big theatre event at Cantina. Sophia, a friend of mine, pulled me out of the bar and into the Pancheros nearby. We ordered our food and laughed over some random meme we had seen on our phone, as one does at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Suddenly, someone dropped a bottle of red wine onto the ground and it shattered. This was followed by what could only be described as a banshee screech from some random girl who I assumed to be in a sorority. The whole establishment turned to look at her, acknowledge the scene, and then drunkenly resume their eating and banter. I, sober, was perturbed at the sight, and my friends and I left soon after.
It was jarring: if something like this were to happen in Kerrytown, all heads would turn to address the incident. This loud and chaotic event seemed to be more of the same in the South U Pancheros. The vibe was so different from what I had experienced prior — it felt like everything that I had seen on TV and in movies depicting the classic college experience.
I would soon learn from my classmates over the years that South Campus was home to a lot of business majors and athletes, which is not surprising considering their respective buildings (the Ross School of Business and the athletic facilities) are located closeby. Either way, I felt that whenever I went to South Campus to get food or some bubble tea, the demographic around me shifted as soon as I ventured across the Diag. Like entering a different Wolverine portal, traversing the Block ‘M’ meant leaving Burning Man and entering Coachella. The population in South U was much more in line with what you initially think of when thinking about college students: fraternity guys and sorority girls, backward caps and natty lights in hand.
Ever since I first encountered the South U universe, I’ve been intrigued by these two separate spheres of campus. I decided I wanted to hear other people’s opinions on their different living experiences on the University of Michigan campus. Could the stark contrast I observed between north campus’s Kerrytown and South Campus be grounded in other’s empirical evidence?
LSA junior Nicklas Capalungan was more than happy to talk about his time at Michigan in his cute Kerrytown house. Nick immediately brought up how cozy he felt in the neighborhood, saying, “I walk outside and it seems like one big family. I’m like, okay, how fun that I’ve got built in friends here! I can just sit on my porch and talk to people passing by like it’s no big deal.”
Capalungan’s journey into Kerrytown was serendipitous. He said that at the last minute, he was “scrambling to get on Facebook and find a place to live in, and thankfully someone let (him) in.”
Speaking to the area’s demographic, he said, “It’s also refreshing to be around a lot of queer people. Kerrytown seems to be the place where I can really feel that community.”
I have to agree. Being surrounded by other LGBTQ+ students is not something that’s always consciously on my mind, but I feel more at ease being myself by the Jimmy Johns on East Ann Street as opposed to the BTB Burrito on South U. I feel more pointed glares toward me when I venture to South U; My body tenses up every time I go to the Domino’s on Packard Street. It is not all fraternity guys who give me a hard time, but it’s enough to make me quicken my pace every time I leave Kerrytown.
Abby Reynolds, a sophomore living near the Domino’s on South Campus, offered a different perspective. Most of her experiences living on the other side of the Diag have been positive. She enjoys a lively social life, filled with going to Rick’s or Good Time Charley’s with her friends. Reynolds said that upon moving in to her South Campus home, she was “surprised to walk out onto my front lawn and see so many athletes around me! I didn’t mind, but when looking where to live I didn’t know I was jumping into the athletes’ homebase.”
During Reynold’s sophomore year, she lived in a sorority house also located on South Campus. This was a positive experience, as “there are tailgates everywhere! On game day there is never a shortage of stuff that I can go to. I love where I live, even if it’s a little noisy sometimes.”
In order to try and further understand the South U culture, as a second best option to attending a football season tailgate, I got some of my friends together and went to Rick’s. I was nervous going in, but as the night progressed I ended up starting to enjoy myself. The tension that had been in my body started to lessen as the music blared, and I took a look at the packed room around me. I was having fun in South U and indulging myself in the fun and chaotic experience of partying in a college bar.
Even though I felt like a stranger walking in the door, I became comfortable enough to talk to the people around me and even make a friend. The red solo cups that surrounded me did make me chuckle, but it was nice for that moment. It was a chance to engage in the “quintessential college experience,” whatever that means, for a short moment.
I think back to the first time I visited the University of Michigan and saw the cute neighborhood of Kerrytown. At the time, that was my entire image of what awaited my time in Ann Arbor. But, truthfully, I wish I had stayed a night in South U and experienced the people there sooner. Instead, it took me so long to end up actually enjoying my time with South U residents and establishments.
Ultimately, through my Kerrytown vs. South Campus case study, I’ve learned that everyone expresses community and celebration in their own way, and as long as we stay respectful of others we can all relish in it! Who knows, maybe some frat bros would enjoy coming to a co-op party and dancing on the porch? They won’t know until they try.
Statement Correspondent Drake George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.