For many Grinnell College students, the trip back to school involves buses, airplanes, or long road trips, but for some students, move-in day requires just a short drive down the block. Twenty-four students currently at Grinnell College also call Grinnell, IA, their hometown and some have lived here for most of their lives.
Growing up in Grinnell, most kids find themselves coming to campus often and have close connections with the College staff.
“My dad works for Facilities Management and I was always connected to the College that way. I also went to a lot of Grinnell sports events when I was younger,” said Ben Burt ’13.
Jack Menner ’13 went to preschool at the Grinnell College Preschool Lab, and listed that as his earliest connection with the College on his admission application four years ago. Jack Menner’s brother, Robbie Menner ’14, and his friends would play on campus when they were young, and professors would take them into the bookstore and buy them candy.
For many Grinnell citizens who decide to attend Grinnell College, it is a struggle to choose between a college they love and the opportunity to travel out into the world. However, the diversity, strong academics, and student body drew them to Grinnell College and they could not see themselves going anywhere else.
“I visited 15 other colleges and found things that I hated about all of them,” said Jennifer Dysart ’15. “Then, I visited Grinnell, did my overnight one more time and just couldn’t help myself.”
Residents who end up at Grinnell often find their top choices to be other small, liberal arts colleges such as Kenyon and Macalester.
“The only thing I did not like about Grinnell is that it was where I have lived for 18 years,” Robbie Menner said.
The vital thing, students say, is that college does not feel like a continuation of their childhood.
“My experiences [growing up] in Grinnell and at Grinnell [College] have been separate, and that’s important,” Jack Menner said.
On the first day of NSO, before he moved in, Jack Menner had his parents load everything into the car, drive out onto the interstate, turn around and drive back to campus as though he was coming from out of town.
Often, students who are from out-of-town do not spend very much time off-campus, in the town of Grinnell.
“I urge everyone to get out and explore … it’s strange to me that people can be here for four years and not actually know where they are,” Dysart said.
Jack Menner suggests that students “give China Sea a chance!” He advises students to ignore the buffet and instead order from the menu, claiming that the food is much better and still comes in large enough portions.
What attracts many people to Grinnell is the town’s atmosphere and the people, and that is what persuades many residents to stay.
“I love the small town feel. I have friends who talk about how friendly everyone is here, and that’s interesting to me because growing up I didn’t think people here were the friendliest, but now I can appreciate that,” Dysart said. “For me, going to college here, it’s running into people all the time. I’ll be going to Noyce and I cross 8th Ave and I see girls I went to high school with riding their bikes to school and I really like that—the sense of community. People also really appreciate the little things here, like Friday football games.”
Unlike a lot of college towns, the Grinnell College campus and the town of Grinnell are two thriving, separate bodies that enrich one another.
“I think the college and town complement each other, but neither is dependent on the other,” Robbie Menner said.
The college brings in events such as performers and speakers, and the presence of Faulconer Gallery and Burling Library add greater cultural resources to the town.
“Grinnell is just a lot more interesting because of the college, and I think our quality of life is higher than a lot of towns in central Iowa,” Dysart said. “For me, my parents didn’t work at the college and … having friends whose parents worked at the College, I think it just opened my eyes to bigger things… I have grown a lot more here than I would have otherwise.”
Because of this separate but symbiotic relationship, there are a lot of different perceptions of the town-college relationship.
“High school students and people who aren’t associated with the College have some very strange ideas about the people who are here and the type of community the campus has. Grinnell College students are a lot more normal than kids in town think they are,” Dysart said.
According to Jack Menner, it can be hard to hold roles as both Grinnell College student and Grinnell resident. Sometimes he finds himself defending fellow students, sometimes fellow townspeople, and sometimes staying out of the discussions altogether.
“I worked at McNally’s,” Dysart said, “and students would come in and buy loads of alcohol, and other people who were shopping there or just driving in downtown would see people walking back, and there’s that idea. But, then you have students who volunteer in schools and do other things in the community, and that gives people a completely different idea. I think it’s all about who you talk to and individual experiences.”
Although they love the town and made the choice to stay for four more years, most resident Grinnell students have plans to go out after graduation and see what more the world has to offer.
“My best friend threatens me all the time because she’s afraid I’m going to stay in town for the rest of my life,” Dysart said. “I have promised to leave after graduation. I’m leaving for study abroad and graduate school and to live on the coast for a while. I probably won’t come back, but I definitely plan to live in a town like Grinnell—small, with a college like Grinnell.”