The annual scramble to find housing on or around Gonzaga’s campus is an anarchic catastrophe and may even be the bane of the institution’s existence, causing fear among people dealing with housing in the Logan Neighborhood.
Last summer Tieryn Bills, a senior at GU studying sociology, received the Morris Undergraduate Fellowship in order to conduct a summer-long ethnographic research project regarding the relationship between GU and the Logan Neighborhood.
“I knew I wanted to do a project in the Logan Neighborhood, and I wanted to investigate — at least to some extent — what residents’ perceptions of students and students’ perceptions of residents are,” Bills said.
GU sociology and criminology professor, Mike DeLand, said he was honored to work with Bills as her faculty sponsor.
“I was heartened by Tieryn’s interest in understanding the everyday realities of Logan residents who live in proximity to GU,” DeLand said. “Not just what they say it’s like to live in Logan, but how they actually live and get by on a daily basis.”
As Bills continued through the project, she said what students were doing wasn’t particularly salient for Logan residents.
“Residents were more concerned about homelessness, drug use, or physical disorder in the neighborhood,” Bills said.
Bills said if some were more concerned about students than others, it was generally related to the housing stock.
Bills’ research led her to a concept she calls “studentification,” which refers to the process of social, environmental and economic change affected by large numbers of students invading particular areas of the cities and neighborhoods in which popular universities are located.
One recent update of the Logan Neighborhood where studentification is visible is in the new Academy Apartments housing complex, which is being advertised to students. The building was previously Holy Names Academy, and then was turned into assisted living facilities for the elderly population.
“Now, it’s being converted into student homes,” Bills said. “It’s not exclusive to students, but the way in which they are marketing it is for students.”
Another way Bills saw studentification manifest in the Logan Neighborhood was in housing prices.
Bills said the price of homes significantly decreases the further from campus they are. People buying homes in the neighborhood understand it is profitable to be selling to students rather than selling to a couple or a family because landlords can divvy up these single-family homes, meant to house four people, into six to eight rooms and make higher profits.
“Especially because they know students are going to be a consistent renting population, there is going to be a group there for two years,” Bills said. “Then, they can refer them to students for the next two years, and so on.”
During her summer of research, Bills found herself investigating four perceptions associated with neighborhood safety in the Logan: defensive, political, pragmatic and detached.
Bills said a defensive orientation takes on physical action — like getting into the neighborhood and cleaning it up.
Political pragmatic orientation, meaning actionable items, refers to political ability to clean up neighborhoods and make the neighborhood safer.
Detached orientation refers to people who are not concerned about neighborhood safety, or, instead, have other entanglements in their lives, which prohibit them from thinking about neighborhood safety.
“Even though most people who embody a detached orientation to safety tend to be lower-income residents, I found that GU students tend to be detached to neighborhood safety too, because they don’t have a stake in neighborhood safety,” Bills said. “We have other things going on that prohibit us from going to a City Council meeting to say, ‘I’m upset about this,’” Bills said.
Students are seen to attract deviance and disorder to the neighborhoods, while others argue fighting this issue creates disorder in itself.
“If you have a lot of beer cans in your front yard or in the recycling bin, people will come and collect them, so they see that as drawing,” Bills said. “I think they see students as easy victims that could potentially be exploited through this disorder.”
DeLand said Bills’ efforts confirmed suspicions that people might have already had.
“That’s the beauty of ethnographic research,” DeLand said. “It shows us the things that, in retrospect, we know were there all along.”
For example, we often hear and think about neighborhood safety as a serious concern in the Logan. But Bills’ research calls us to remember that many residents in the Logan simply don’t have the time, resources or energy to organize their lives around neighborhood concerns. Too much is pressing and stressful in their private lives. We should ask ourselves how the GU community can meet them where they’re at.
Bills investigated ways in which students perceive the Logan Neighborhood in their housing search.
“In the same way that residents understand the Sharp, Sinto, Mission, Augusta and Nora area to be inhabited by students, students also understand that past that point is not really their space anymore,” Bills said. “So, when people conceptualize the Logan Neighborhood, they think of it as GU to Indiana, and anything beyond that is not the Logan that they know and associate themselves with it.”
She also noted that, technically, the Logan Neighborhood runs all the way to Euclid Avenue, near Yokes Fresh Market, which is about 12 blocks from campus.
“In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what the bounds of the neighborhood are,” Bills said. “People are going to define their neighborhood as whatever they want it to be and in the ways that they use it.”
Bills made clear the identity of the Logan Neighborhood: To exist as a sustainable neighborhood separate from GU.
“If you want to partner with us, that’s cool, but we’re self-sufficient, and we don’t draw our identity from the situation,” Bills said.