By Cameron Bocanegra | Reporter
When I showed up at Baylor University, I found that it was exactly like the brochures, meaning, it was all watered sidewalks, constant gardening and the sound of bells in the distance that kindly wake you up in class.
Gentrification is not a pretty word, but it is a pretty thing. It’s so pretty that it raises property taxes before you can blink. So pretty that it almost would go unnoticed, if not for the staggering racial demographics and poverty rates double the state average.
Inside the bubble, it’s easy to ignore. It is easy to watch “Fixer Upper” and think, “Well that is something.” Would I be a Baylor Bear if I didn’t complain about those wild Waco roads, how uneven and sloping they are? It’s easier to see the community that was in place before Baylor as the current problem. It’s just like it’s always been said, “Out with the old and in with the new.”
I like to tell myself that I am exploring when I venture down a road I do not quite recognize off of La Salle Avenue or S. University Parks Drive. I drive in a Waco community with my Baylor University emblem on the back of a new car I didn’t pay for. I recognize my privilege. As far as I drive off campus, I am continuously dragging Baylor behind me and always representing our beloved green and gold.
Our role in the local communities is severely prevalent, but is justifiable, of course. Baylor has numerous outreach programs that engage with the community in order to leverage the university’s collective influence toward promoting positive social change.
Campus Kitchens, for example, collectively provides meals every single week for the battered women and family shelter straight out of Baylor’s brand new dining halls. Programs like these are meant to teach students communal responsibility, experiential learning and civic leadership. We pride ourselves in our mission statement that says our purpose is “to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.”
We leave a “paw print” wherever we go. Some of them are for positive social change and others are not seen so keenly. New apartment buildings are thrown up every year, barely ready for the hundreds of college students that come racing through to claim a little more of Waco. For every action, there is an opposite reaction. Parks Place has gone up, but an Interstate 35 expansion is pushing out over fifty businesses and H-E-B no longer exists within walking distance. A slightly dilapidated house with rusty shutters next to Robinson Tower is prime real estate, but we tend to forget it is also someone’s childhood home.
This problem will not be resolved overnight. Some of the difficulty resides in the fact that it seems like a tottering scale. If one side gains leverage, then the other has to concede. Waco may always be locked in this quiet battle with gentrification and urbanization while fighting for control over the entire city. At the same time, it could be considered close-minded to condemn any type of growth in this once sleepy college town when progression is a natural part of everything.
As Baylor students, we don’t notice it, because it’s all we have ever seen. No change can happen without first acknowledging that there is a problem. Once we stop regarding ourselves as God’s gift to Waco, we’ll be able to better see how our actions affect the surrounding areas that were here before the “Palace on the Brazos.”