For many students, the “Haverbubble” is a familiar phenomenon: taking classes, eating meals, studying, and working all on the same small campus. Thanks to a new partnership with the Ardmore Initiative, however, getting off campus just got a little easier.
The Ardmore Initiative is a local nonprofit whose mission spans from helping local businesses to preserving historic buildings downtown. According to its website, the Ardmore Initiative’s vision is “for downtown Ardmore is to create a welcoming, walkable, and inclusive downtown that offers a vibrant business mix, including family-friendly independent and national retail stores and service businesses.”
Though Haverford is located within a short walk of Ardmore, there’s a general feeling on campus that not many students venture into the neighboring town. By offering more opportunities in Ardmore, administrators hope that will change.
“Truly it’s about getting our students off campus more, which I think it’s really important to try to break out of the Haverbubble, and also doing a more targeted job of supporting the local businesses that are very close to the college,” said Assistant Dean of the College and Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Mike Elias, who is also a board member of the Ardmore Initiative.
Through the new partnership, Elias said he hopes that Haverford will be able to work more closely with local businesses, whether by bringing them in to cater events at the college or finding other ways to “utilize the services that those businesses provide.” As a perk of the new partnership, students will also have a 10 percent discount at a number of local businesses – marked by a black squirrel sticker in their window – when they show their Haverford ID. He also said that he hopes to think about ways to make Ardmore more accessible to students who want to walk or bike into town.
To help students get acquainted with Ardmore, Elias helped plan an event during customs that encouraged first-year students and their customs teams to make their way into the nearby town. Students broke off into four groups that each went to a different organization working within the community. This list of organizations was varied – from Bethel AME, which runs after school programs in the area, to Common Space, which helps bring local residents together in communal gathering spots, to, of course, the Ardmore Initiative. After learning more about what these organizations do, students received a voucher that they could use at a local restaurant.
“I remember hearing about [the event during customs] and then I thought it was a really cool opportunity, just because I think a lot of times, Haverford students don’t really engage that much with the Ardmore area or Philadelphia even,” said Rebecca Chang ‘19, who is a UCA this year. As part of the event, Chang visited the Ardmore Initiative’s office and learned about the organization. If anything, she said, she wished she had more time there to ask questions. She and some other students then headed over to Yi’s Boba, where Chang said a long line of Haverford students was already forming outside.
Aside from the scheduled activities, she said the event also gave her a chance to just explore the town.
“I think it was my first time walking in more of the side streets in Ardmore,” said Chang. “It was just interesting seeing Ardmore because I never really walked through Ardmore or felt the need to walk through Ardmore, so that was really interesting just seeing different houses and also new developments going on and like ‘what’s going on here.’” Chang specifically referred to certain developments that are changing the character of the town and noted the gentrification happening within Ardmore.
First-year student Charlotte Dagones ‘22 also said that she enjoyed the group event during customs. Dagones had already explored Ardmore on her own before customs started, but said that going into the town with her customs team and seeing some of her friends in the area was an added bonus.
“I think it’s nice for people that might not think to just go out there by yourself, because you can get really sucked into the campus bubble because it does feel kind of far to just walk to the town,” Dagones said.
Though this was the first year that the customs program sent students into Ardmore, the college has been fostering relationships with local groups for some time. Emily Johnson, the program coordinator for the Marilou Allen Office of Service & Community Collaboration, said that one of her priorities is helping students find new ways to get involved in Ardmore.
She said that she hopes “more students will venture off campus and see what’s around [and] will feel more connected to the community here. And also community members thinking of Haverford not only as a college plopped there next to them, but as also a space where they are welcome.”
Even with all the praise for the new push to get students into Ardmore, some students say there’s still room to improve the customs event. Chang also emphasized looking at the types of businesses Haverford chooses to support, and thinking about how Haverford can support businesses run by people of color. In addition, she emphasized the gentrification happening in Ardmore, and said that it is imperative for the college to think critically about its relationship with the local community.
“I think it’s important for them to think critically about where we’re putting our money,” said Chang. “It was a great start and springboarding this initiative hopefully will further develop relationships with Ardmore, but [it’s important to think about] where we put our money, who we support, and what communities are talking and are not talking because Ardmore is a really changing place right now.”