October 18, 2021

MEHLER | Choosing To Be An Ithacan

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Every Cornell student lives in the City of Ithaca while attending our University. It’s your choice to not only call Cornell your home, but call Ithaca your home too.

In a recent piece by columnist Emma Smith ‘22, I read about Smith questioning whether or not they considered themselves to be an Ithacan. In asking my friends and others about their thoughts on the article, I was surprised to hear how many other students evaluated the question of whether they were an Ithacan. Their first response tended to be that they thought of themselves as Cornellians with Cornell being their home. But, why can’t you be both?  

Coming to Cornell, I believe all students understand that they are choosing to make Cornell one of their homes. What we seem to  forget (and what I forgot as a 17-year-old applicant), is that we also have  the opportunity to choose Ithaca as our home when we choose Cornell. Whether you arrived as a freshman or transferred as a junior, Ithaca is where we live, eat, work and sleep. Ithaca provides for us, and we in turn provide for Ithaca. It’s our choice  to identify as Ithacans or just temporary visitors.

I believe that Ithaca is my home. The rent I pay to a Collegetown landlord funnels into property taxes that fund the quality of Collegetown’s streets which I walk every day. I order and eat food from dozens of restaurants in both Collegetown and the Commons; that sales tax funds social services for everyone throughout the city. The financial contributions we as students make directly to the city is over $350 million. That certainly makes me feel like an Ithacan who is contributing to my community. Secondly, in my new direct work with the city government, I have come to learn how important the impact of students is on the city. Beyond the taxes, we as students fund Cornell, which in turn funds over $1 billion of payroll to permanent residents. That makes me feel like an Ithacan who is contributing to my community.

Most importantly, I feel connected to the organizations and operations of the City of Ithaca. For me, that currently looks like being an alderperson serving on the Common Council and on committees that consider the economic and development planning of the city. For others, that means working with Unbroken Promise Initiative or My Brother’s Keeper, working as a server at Red’s Place or Luna’s, or just participating in the protests and marches over the past couple years.

Cornell needs Ithaca and Ithaca needs Cornell; our mutual dependence on one another allows us to thrive as a community. The importance of town-gown relations cannot be understated. Our role as students is not unimportant in how the city operates and the role of permanent residents is not unimportant in our experiences as students. 

Ultimately, I wish to make one succinct point in your own question as to whether or not you consider yourself an Ithacan: It is your choice. Where you make your homes throughout your life is a personal choice that should be one of sincerity and belonging. I have personally decided that Ithaca is one of my homes, just as Yonkers, the Bronx and Cornell are for me. My decision to call Ithaca my home is my choice; I encourage you all to try the same. Ithaca will always have its gorges, but you can choose to make these gorges your home.

Patrick J. Mehler is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Tuesday this semester.