Oxford, Mississippi. A charming Square and rich history. Grand antebellum homes and university accolades. Smart. Wealthy. Alluring.
These are some of the factors by which our “lovely” city is defined. However, there is far more to our city than many realize.
Oxford is a city laden with poverty.
Over 35% of Oxford’s population lives below the poverty line. In other words, more than 1 in 3 Oxonians are impoverished.
Upon discovering this, I was shocked. There is no way that statistic is true, I thought. Surely my beautiful college town is free from hardship. I then realized I’m part of the problem. The problem is this: The city of Oxford’s government ignores the impoverished population in order to keep up appearances and in order to get people to buy the prosperity which it is selling.
When canvassing for the statewide governor election, I had the opportunity to speak with over 100 people who live below the poverty line. I got to know my community members more intimately, and I realized that these are people who play a vital role in the upkeep of Oxford’s precious reputation. They keep our Grove gorgeous. They feed the students who fulfill the Oxford prestige, yet they are excluded within our city’s center.
The citywide negligence of people living in poverty is not a trend only in Oxford, but it is ubiquitous here. It boils down to social and economic exclusion. Social exclusion of people living in poverty is rampant everywhere in the world. Economic exclusion, though, is where Oxford excels.
Economic exclusion is the process by which “particular groups are prevented from participating fully and equally in the economic life of their city.” Economic exclusion is woven into Oxford’s cultural framework. I walk along the Square and often find myself afraid to walk into any of the stores because the price tags might burn me, yet I’m not living in poverty. Imagine how much worse it might be for those who are living below the poverty line. It is this “boutique mindset” that causes our city to be placed on a faulty pedestal. It attracts people who are well-off and dispels those who are not, and if Oxonians wants to be better, we need to alter our mindset from that of ignorance to inclusivity.
Oxford has a broken housing system and expensive parking with stiff regulations. This is a city that will tear down public housing, which benefits the poor. This is a city that will force low income people to pay for parking if they want to work on the Square and impose steep tickets on those incapable of filling the meter. This city excludes one third of its inhabitants.
As students, as Oxford residents, as human beings, we cannot sit by idly as a large percentage of our city is excluded. Inclusivity starts with us. I realize that I do not have the answer to end poverty. I understand that the city does not cause poverty, but I also recognize that it does not do much to help the impoverished to improve their situation or to make them feel like full members of our community. It’s expensive to work, live and breathe in Oxford, and there’s little that is being done to relieve the strain people living in poverty feel.
The citizenry and its government are the ones who have to act in order to alleviate what over one-third of Oxford’s population is experiencing, and it needs to be with an open heart, not closed doors.
Stroud Tolleson is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Madison, Mississippi.