Why, Even with U-Pass, We Pass on the Opportunity to Connect
Bursting the Bubble, Segment 1.
Each year the Milwaukee County Transit System provides unlimited rides for over 50,000 college students in the U-PASS program. Marquette University is included in this college student population, and if every student picks up the bus pass allotted to them at the beginning of the year, that’s transportation for 11,745 of our students.
Now if you’re anything like me, when you first got to Marquette you wondered,
Why they had even issued us these bus passes in the first place?
I could walk to all my classes, I didn't need to grocery shop until Junior year when I was off the meal plan and I surely by then would have a car or know someone that did.
I seriously considered asking for a refund on my student activity fee.
The first time I had to take to the bus (because I had no other means of transportation) I was heading to my Service Learning site. I was already feeling a bit anxious about traveling somewhere I was unfamiliar with, on a bus with multiple stops that I was also unfamiliar with. As I sat at the bus stop right outside my freshman dorm (s/o Cobeen Hall), I realized that in addition to my insecurities about getting to the right place and on time, I was also anxious about the strangers I was sitting with. Sitting next to and around me were many that fit the incredibly general descriptions that are sent out via text/email alerts from Marquette’s Department of Public Safety incident reports. For the MU students reading, you know what I’m talking about…
While I didn't actually take it out, reaching into my coat pocket to find the pepper spray an Aunt had given me before coming to college gave me a sense of comfort. Having my fingers wrapped around the spray bottle made me feel control and less in danger- even if the danger didn't even exist.
If I was thinking logically, I would know my generalizations from the DPS text alerts were way too broad to associate with a specific individual. Just because the alerts often describe a suspect that is a black male in his mid 20's, that doesn't mean that I needed to be immediately, and almost instinctively afraid of the 3 or 4 black men in their 20's that were standing at my same bus stop that day.
But that’s the problem- our brains aren't programmed to think logically in situations that cause us fear.
Think about the first question you have when receiving a DPS text or email alert: Where was it?
And why do we ask this question? It’s because we want to know how close the incident was to where we live. We subconsciously identify with the victim and view proximity of the crime as an indicator of the likelihood that it could have been us.The closer the crime, the greater the chance that next time it could be me.
And even considering that it could have been me, my mind will instinctively put up guards to protect myself- even at the cost of irrationally avoiding a whole race/gender of people. One way I guarded myself was discretely holding on to that pepper spray. Another way was looking socially unavailable by both sitting in a position that I was turned away from people, and only looking at my phone.
We are the generation that grew up with the societal construct of “stranger danger.” We have been misguided from a young age to characterize stereotypes and prejudices as “instincts” and acting on those prejudices is merely “following those instincts.”
So, as I sat at the bus stop outside Cobeen Hall with my guard up, I was totally disengaged to those around me. Why? Because some of the people around me happened to fit the general description, talking or exchanging pleasantries with them was not a risk I was willing to take.
After I had made it to and from my Service Learning site for the first time, I found myself thinking about all the anxieties I had had being on the bus earlier that day. As I thought about it, it made me uncomfortable the fact that I was uncomfortable. Even though I could recognize this discomfort, I didn't know what to do with it. The division between Marquette and Milwaukee, or even white/black segregation in Milwaukee as a whole seemed way too complex- especially when considering my role as a single individual.
I continued riding the bus to Service Learning every week for that semester with the same anxieties followed by the same discomfort. I decided not to think about the issues any more because it would only result in me feeling more helpless.
It wasn't until living here this summer when I wasn't taking classes (and completely in the MU student mindset) that I realized that it wasn't race that made me uncomfortable; it was my realization that my fear based assumptions were illogical and that the Milwaukee/ Marquette disconnect was what was fueling it.
We've all heard the phrase “Marquette Bubble” at least one…hundred times during our time here at MU. The phrase is used by us students to signify that we are very aware of what is Marquette’s campus and what is “Milwaukee.”
So what is “the bubble”? It is yet another social construct, this time our own, that divides us- the Marquette community and them- the Milwaukee community. We use it to justify why the only time we get off campus is to go to the Public Market and why it’s okay to describe anyone, who’s not a student, as “shady.”
We talk about “the bubble” all the time, but do we ever ask why it exists?
No. While we always talk about it in a negative connotation, we never work to change it, because maybe there’s a certain comfort that comes from being protected by a bubble. The bubble confines. However, us students are content with the confinement and don’t see that it’s restricting us.
Throughout this 5 part series, I will be exploring what separates the MU and MKE community, what harm we are causing when we distance ourselves, and what we can do to make our city (and not just within the parameters of Wisc to Wells, 9th St to 20th) more united.
If we really want to “be the difference,” we are going to have to start by bursting the bubble.