Staff Editorial: Take your parents on a real St. Louis tour

This upcoming weekend, family members of Washington University students will descend on campus from across the country for the annual tradition of Parent and Family Weekend. As usual, there will be happy reunions, impromptu dorm room tours and a variety of on-campus panels and talks designed to give family members a glimpse of life at the University.

There will also be another opportunity during the weekend—The First Year Center will offer students and their families the chance to purchase tickets and leave campus on a variety of tours around St. Louis. These include walking tours of the Central West End and Soulard neighborhoods, as well as bus tours that explore Forest Park, the city as a whole and “Tennessee Williams’ St. Louis.” Professor of architecture and Community Engagement Fellow with the Gephardt Institute Bob Hansman will also lead a tour of “The Other St. Louis,” which will explore “the racial, sociocultural and political context of St. Louis city and county, including the north county city of Ferguson.”

These tours—especially those to less frequently visited areas of the city—are a concrete, constructive effort on the part of the University to introduce not only students, but also the loved ones who support them, to St. Louis outside of the “Wash. U. Bubble.” Both students and family members should take advantage of this opportunity and take time this weekend to engage with the city outside of campus and the Delmar Loop.

It’s no secret that Washington University and its students often fail to interact meaningfully with the broader St. Louis community. A physically closed off campus and a nicely contained entertainment district nearby in the Loop combine to make the University feel even more insular than most other colleges across the United States.

If students want to be part of breaking down these barriers rather than keeping them firmly in place, they can start with something as simple as taking one of these tours—especially to areas like Ferguson where most wouldn’t venture otherwise—with well-informed experts. This weekend provides a chance to learn and to share with loved ones the city that we call home, and if possible, we should take advantage.

Even if guided tours with other families doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there’s nothing stopping you from visiting and learning about these areas on your own: Many parents have cars, and the internet has information. Even if neither your family nor you plan on having a car in town, the rest of the city is just an Uber ride away, and any travel within the designated boundary around campus will be covered through the University’s recent Uber initiative.

Finally, even when on campus, students and their loved ones can still engage with communities on campus and beyond. The Gephardt Institute, for example, will host an open house during parents’ weekend—stop by and learn about the work being done on campus to promote outreach. For those whose parents are not so easily shocked, the Performing Arts Department’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show” provides a snapshot of the arts on campus.

Even if you don’t have relatives visiting St. Louis for Parent and Family Weekend, the events hosted by the University provide a necessary reminder that the metropolitan area expands for miles outside of campus, and that too often students stay wrapped safely inside their bubble. Take inspiration and, whether this weekend or another, explore the city we call home.

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