Isla Vista, the densely-packed unincorporated half square mile that is our home, is undoubtedly one of the most unique locales in the country. But having an overwhelming majority of residents who really enjoy living it up, are in a potentially tumultuous chapter of their lives, and are only around for a few years creates problems. The past year has demonstrated what an intense party atmosphere can do, and no one can deny that IV is a bit shabby in its upkeep.
It’s also not much of a secret that the university is concerned about its adjacent community’s reputation and the effects it could have on the institution, and there are always rumors that UCSB wants to begin buying up property. According to George Thurlow’s “Unofficial Isla Vista History” on the Alumni Association’s Coastlines website, Chancellor Yang “believes deeply that Isla Vista has become a drag on the University’s national and international reputation.” Ed Birch, a former Vice Chancellor for Student and Community Affairs, also believes, according to the Coastlines essay, that “the University should begin buying up land in Isla Vista and putting academic buildings in the community.”
The intention is good, and I have no doubt that buying up parts of IV for explicit university purposes would help improve the community’s circumstances, but it’s not the way UCSB should go about changing the town’s reputation and state of affairs for a number of reasons. Though sometimes problematic, IV’s distinct culture, defined by students’ independence and their freedom to mold the community to their needs and desires, would inevitably deteriorate—or at least transform—into a watered-down version of itself. Given how much this culture means to its participants and how storied its history is, incorporating IV into campus transforms this culture into one that revolves much more around UCSB. Additionally, given how crammed IV is already, any non-residential university buildings that do not supplant eateries only further exacerbate the community’s housing situation.
Currently, IV living is to on-campus living as college professors are to high school teachers; students are forced to have more independent, adult responsibilities and experiences when they are not directly governed and steered by the university. UCSB can and should have a role in improving the community its students call home, but should do so without being this proverbial high school teacher and altering the broader culture. Associated Students have opened the Pardall Center, hosts activities in IV, and runs the IV Tenants Union, among other operations meant to benefit and improve the community in ways that utilize IV rather than absorb it into the greater sphere of the university. Program Board’s Delirium concert is a perfect illustration of how the University can promote change without actually becoming the community.
Offering services like these rather than formally institutionalizing its own rules allows residents the opportunity to improve the community on its own terms; that is, they do so themselves rather than the university doing it for them. Student-led action is one of the hallmarks of IV’s history and culture, and providing residents with the tools to improve their community facilitates this while simultaneously mitigating the town’s aspects that embarrass the university.
Rather than try to absorb and incorporate Isla Vista into the university, UCSB should nurture it by making available programs and activities that give residents the opportunity to clean up—literally and figuratively—their home in a way that doesn’t tarnish its reputation, while protecting the culture of the half square mile we know and love.