Back ‘home’ again in Indiana

August 17, 2012

It’s the end of “Welcome Week” on the IU Bloomington campus. A record-breaking 7,590 first-year students came to campus this week, along with the rest of the classes. Facebook and Twitter feeds brimmed with messages from new and returning students celebrating their return to campus and alumni waxing nostalgic. This week is an unofficial homecoming — the IDS student newspaper even titled their Aug. 16 front page feature that way: Bloomington, Btown. HOME.

If you live year-round in a college town such as Bloomington, this homecoming brings decidedly mixed feelings. We curse the #trafficarmageddon, as one Twitter hashtag named it, shaking our fists at the lines and crowds and cars. At the same time, we long-time residents know the return of 40,000 people to their temporary home is a large part of what makes our town what it is. The university and its students provide jobs, economic stimulus, and cultural and intellectual activities that enhance our town in countless ways.

Still, every year, I have the urge to buttonhole the gaggles of students on campus and tell them what they’re missing. As a full-time Bloomingtonian, I know our town is so much more than a campus. This place really is home.

There is no one who speaks more eloquently of being at home in Bloomington (and Indiana) than Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English Scott Russell Sanders. The author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, Sanders has lived in Bloomington since 1971, when he arrived on campus to begin teaching. In 2012, selected essays by Sanders, drawn from three decades of writing, were published in a volume entitled Earth Works (Indiana University Press). Here are a few words from Sanders’s book Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World (1993).

I wish to consider the virtue and discipline of staying put. I dwell here in company, with my wife and children, my neighbors, the people of my city, and with all the creatures that run and root and soar. I desire no home apart from this companionship. Although I have lived in the same region, indeed the same house, for twenty years, I am still discovering what it means to be a citizen. …

The work of belonging to a place is never finished. There will always be more to know than any mind or lifetime can hold. But that is no argument against learning all one can.

So welcome back, students. This year, may we all learn more about belonging to this place. Welcome to our home.




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