Distant Neighbors

Andover. Lawrence. Two towns miles away, yet worlds apart. Or so we are inclined to believe. I am from Wisconsin, and so the disparity between the two towns was entirely new to me when I first heard about it during orientation.

Oftentimes, it seems as though Lawrence is associated with negative stereotypes — it is a place supposedly marked by high crime rates, poverty and an undereducated population. In fact, however, these are inaccurate, outdated stereotypes that the Andover community must recognize and move beyond. Furthermore, the idea that stereotypes about Lawrence are taboo prevents students from learning about Lawrence’s rich cultural history and forming more accurate conceptions of the community.

With no previous knowledge of the city of Lawrence, I attended a presentation on October 17 entitled “Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, MA,” given by Dr. Llana Barber, Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.

Barber described the history of Lawrence, emphasizing the last 75 years in particular. In the 1950s, suburbs began popping up around Lawrence, and those who could afford to live outside the city moved out; as a result, property values in the city decreased. Shortly thereafter, the 1980s and 1990s saw an influx of Latino immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

To many, it seemed as if Lawrence’s economic descent and increasing rate of criminal activity had resulted from the presence of impoverished immigrants. Riots in 1984, resulting from racial tensions, only furthered this belief in the eyes of Lawrence’s white citizens and those who lived in the surrounding suburbs.

What became clear to me over the course of the presentation was the fact that stereotypes about Lawrence and its citizens are not only untrue but also reflective of ideas prevalent decades ago that are no longer relevant now. This is to not say that Lawrence is completely crime-free or that there are no longer racial tensions there. Nevertheless, Lawrence is a very different place than it was in 1950, 1975 or even 2000. Today, Lawrence is in the midst of an economic and cultural revival. Furthermore, the arson and overall crime rates have decreased significantly over the past several decades (despite a small spike related to the 2008 fiscal crash).

This was just one presentation, yet it was enough to educate me about Lawrence and provide me with a completely new perspective on the city. Such educational opportunities for learning about Andover’s nearby communities should be required of all students; efforts like these would no doubt reduce some of the geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic and racial prejudice that still exists on campus, leading to a more tolerant and appreciative community.

_Dani Valverde is a Junior from Eau Claire, WI._