When I told one of my friends that my classmate was from the area, she remarked: “Oh, he’s a townie.” That was the first time I heard the word “townie”, and then I promptly forgot about it, unaware of its connotation and surprisingly long history.
The first known use of the word “townie” dated back to 1823, meaning a resident or native of a college town who isn’t affiliated with the institution. Through nearly 200 years of usage, its meaning has stayed the same. The term “town and gown”, with a history equally as long as “townie”, depicts the separation — and even antagonistic relationship — between the locals and gown-donning academics. Stemming from long-standing university towns like Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, it’s clear that tension between the two groups is as ancient as the existence of college towns and has continued to the present day in almost every college town from Great Britain to the United States.
Binghamton University is no exception to this tension. Nestled in a green cove, BU is essentially its own community. My interactions with people who aren’t affiliated with the college in my first semester were almost nonexistent, apart from the strangers I chatted with at the bus stop on my grocery runs. In addition, the majority of my peers are not from the area — they mostly come from Long Island, New York City, neighboring states or even other countries. This insularity doesn’t help transplanted students in integrating with the local community and scuffles between locals and students are not unheard of.
“I have heard a few stories,” Thornton Fauci, a junior majoring in business administration, said. “I do not believe any conflict between a townie and a student started because of someone being a townie, but I do think it becomes the go-to adjective for a non-student in conflict, giving townies a seemingly bad name.”
Apart from revealing the division between the two groups, the term “townie” also carries a classist and derogatory tone. Mocking definitions of the term “townie” are frequently found in informal dictionaries, painting a picture of ignorant, lower-income individuals. There seems to be a shift in recent years to a more neutral tone, but the negative implication still stays.
”I don’t see the term ‘townie’ as derogatory,” Alexis Shaw, a senior majoring in biology and local resident, said. “But, my mom went to BU in the ’90s and because she was a townie who lived at home, the non-local students did not want to associate with her.”
Fauci provided his own take on the term.
“I understand why it is perceived as a negative term, but it really shouldn’t hold too much weight,” Fauci said. “If you get offended by being called a ‘townie’, you should work on developing tougher skin. And if you use the word ‘townie’ intentionally as an insult, you end up sounding like a whiny toddler.”
The effects of BU on its neighbors don’t stop at group tensions. They include housing situations and business growth as well. Quinn Sterling, ‘19, of Binghamton, noted these disparities.
”It’s frustrating that luxury apartments and student-focused restaurants are being put in [Downtown Binghamton] when parts of the community are in dire need of affordable housing, grocery stores and a more robust public transportation system,” Sterling said. “None of this is the fault of the students, but it highlights a big disparity.”
Despite the separation of these groups, it’s clear that transplanted BU students bring a lot of value to the surrounding community. Whether it manifests as a source of money, volunteers, academic discovery or as a labor force, a large number of students have successfully edged into and become locals themselves.
“Binghamton is a good city, and I enjoy seeing folks out and about and appreciating it,” Sterling said. “… If there was more integration of the student and local communities, both groups would benefit … a lot of locals’ only experience with students is when they’re drinking downtown,”