Student Ambassadors at Go Forth launch event (11.16.18). Photo by Sulli Wallisch '19.
  • Student Life
One Body, Many Neighborhoods

Introduction by Frank Kovarik '94
Director of Equity & Inclusion, English Department Chair

St. Louis University High is truly a regional institution, drawing students from around the area who represent almost 100 different zip codes. Because students come from so many different neighborhoods and schools, the idea of “One body, many parts,” drawn from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is a key theme for freshmen as they acclimate to the school and to each other.

This past fall, students and faculty gathered for a unique assembly designed to encourage reflection about the range of neighborhoods represented in the fictive neighborhood of SLUH. With the floor of the Danis Field House divided into zones based on zip codes, students and adults from the community experienced a microcosm of the region, complete with blue runners representing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. A small stage located near the Mississippi took the place of the Backer Memorial. From this platform,  a student master of ceremonies led the attendees through a series of questions about what they noticed as they looked around.

The crown jewel of the assembly, however, was a series of reflections given by students from the eight major regions of the metro area. In these personal stories, students testified to the meaning they find in their neighborhoods and the struggles their neighborhoods face. They spoke about their frustrations and joys related to the places they call home, and they meditated on how their area of St. Louis is viewed at SLUH.

Ultimately, the assembly aimed to build connectedness and understanding among the student body.

“I think this (the assembly) definitely plays into the theme of solidarity,” said senior Christian Wallace-Hughes, “because how are we supposed to help one another and stand in solidarity with one another if we do not even know how we live, where we live, and what we experience?”

Christian Wallace-Hughes ‘19
JeffVanderLou, Missouri

The neighborhood I live in north city is named the JeffVanderLou neighborhood (JVL). It is about five minutes north of the Fox Theater.

I developed a love-hate relationship with my neighborhood since I was a child. Sometimes I love it so much that I cannot help expressing how much I enjoy the community I live in. For example, when I was a kid, a friend of mine wanted to ride a horse for her birthday party, but her parents did not have enough money at the time to rent the horses. So all of the adults on my street combined their money together to get what the little girl wanted. Looking at this memory now makes me love and appreciate the people who live in my neighborhood. It made me feel like if my family ever needed help, the people in my community would try their best to help us too, like they did with the little girl.

Another proud moment was when a summer project called “Operation Clean Sweep” organized by Better Family Life cleaned up trash, cut overgrown vegetation, and destroyed vacant houses to improve the physical condition and environment of our neighborhood. A lot of people in my neighborhood helped out with the cleanup effort. It made me happy to see so many people I lived around put in an effort to try make the place we live in look and feel better.

But sometimes there are things and events that happen to me or neighborhood residents that that make me wish I lived on the the other side of town. A couple years after the horse themed birthday party, my older brother and my cousins were targeted by a shooter in a drive-by. My family was very afraid for a short period of time. My mother did not allow my cousins and brother to go outside for a couple of days because she was too afraid the shooter might come back to finish the job. We didn't  even think about calling the police because the shooter was already long gone and we felt the police would only make the situation worse. So my family waited inside of our house until they felt like it was safe to continue their daily lives. The only things damaged by the shooting were one living room window and a wall, each bearing a bullet hole. The hole in the wall was quickly fixed but the one in the window stayed. It served as a daily reminder that my family or even I could be shot at any moment while living in our own neighborhood. Seeing it made me very cautious of the things that happened where I live. I stopped going outside after the sunset, I would cower under my covers when I heard a gunshot, and I constantly looked behind my back whenever I walked somewhere with my brother. Even now as an 18 year old, I am very careful about my surroundings.

This fear is one of the reasons why I like coming to SLUH. Here, the type of things I have to worry about are: “Did I study enough for the theology quiz?” or “Am I going to have enough time to finish my Spanish homework?” Going to this school is like I am in a different world and I am interacting with people who, in most cases, don’t worry about the same stuff I worry about at home. Because of this, I disliked talking about where I live with others. I felt embarrassed talking about it with people, because when I hear someone here talk about the city it is always in a negative tone. I did not want anyone to associate me with all of the bad things they hear about north St. Louis.

Now I’m not afraid or embarrassed to share where I am from. I want the SLUH community to know, despite the hardships and violence people face in my neighborhood, we still try to care for one another and keep a sense of community.

Reed Milnor ‘19
Alton, Illinois

Hello! My name is Reed Milnor, and my neighborhood is Alton, Illinois. Alton is a town of roughly 27,000 people. Over the past eight years only six students have attended SLUH from my hometown. Alton is one of the farthest zip codes from which SLUH students commute, located about 45 minutes north of SLUH by car and is home to some great history, scenery, and community.

Robert Wadlow, who was born and raised in Alton, was – at 8 feet 11 inches – the tallest person on record. Elijah P. Lovejoy was a newspaper writer and abolitionist who lived in Alton and was killed because of his antislavery writing during the early 1800s. The city was also important in the underground railroad. Over the years Alton has also become a major Eagle watching area in the winter and early spring, bringing many people to the river road to view the beautiful bluffs on one side where the Eagles roost and the river on the other. The small-town aspects of the community makes it very likely that anytime a resident drives through town they are bound to see at least several people they know.

In Alton almost every 8th grader chooses one of two places to go to high school: Marquette Catholic High School or the Alton Public High School. As with high schools in St. Louis, affiliating with either of the two schools immediately gives that person an identity that others can latch onto. My high school selection process was had another school in the mix. A year earlier my parents encouraged me to attend SLUH Night, which was when I fell in love with the SLUH community. When the admission letter came and the time to make a decision approached, questions such as “Are you going to Alton or Marquette?” began to flood the hallways of my school. When they phrased the question in this way, I struggled with how to respond. Going across the Mississippi River for school was uncommon, and I tried to avoid the question whenever possible so that I could continue to feel a full part of my class until the end of the school year.

As a student at SLUH, I have tried to continue to keep in touch with my friends that go to Alton and Marquette high schools, but it has been difficult. While some do understand my love for SLUH, still some of my former classmates and their families don’t understand why I go to school so far away from home, and it has made retaining these relationships difficult. The river divides me from my Alton friends, as does my choice of high schools. By going to SLUH, I have had to learn how to be a part of two entirely different groups of people on a daily basis.

Ultimately I have learned ways to enjoy the commute and become as much a part of the SLUH community as I can while also fostering my relationships with friends I grew up with from the Alton area. SLUH and Alton have been two very different communities for me during my time at SLUH, and both groups will always be a part of me.

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