For years students have been primarily housed on campus, limiting campus and community relations and creating what is known as the “Alma Bubble.” However, this fall, students began occupying the newly renovated Opera House, a project that has been conceptualized for many years.
Alma College students had a unique opportunity presented to them last spring, living in a building that once was a hub for Alma entertainment and helping to revive Alma’s environment. Opera House resident Anna Lauer (’21) was drawn to live there for its historical value and the appeal of living in a new space.
Being farther from campus may inspire students to seek out alternate spaces to study. Lauer liked Highland Blush’s atmosphere and being able to use Munch Money to purchase food and drinks there. “I would use (Highland Blush) as a study space instead of the library,” said Lauer. “The shop’s proximity to the Opera House makes it a prime location for students to visit.”
Local business owners are ready to welcome students on a more regular basis. “When everything started to get finalized, excitement started building downtown,” said Highland Blush owner Damian Sanderson. He mentioned the changing demographic of downtown visitors and the different events that could be offered based on this new audience.
Popping the Alma Bubble can benefit both students and the overall community. Lauer recounted opening her apartment window and hearing events happening downtown. “Being out of the Alma Bubble reminded me that there are people living lives outside the college, and I feel more connected now than I was before,” said Lauer. She said by utilizing the Opera House to host campus events, the community can be integrated into Alma College in ways not attainable in the past.
Sanderson also had positive thoughts on popping the Bubble. “The Bubble exists because there are limited reasons to pop it.” He mentioned that students usually will find nothing of interest to do downtown. By hosting inexpensive, accessible events, he hopes to encourage Alma students to step out of campus and attend events beyond college sanctioned activities.
Students can help break the Alma Bubble by staying connected. Sanderson encourages students to become active with local businesses through social media. “You never find out about free events if you don’t connect yourself on social media,” said Sanderson.
Sanderson mentioned the twofold relationship students have with downtown businesses. If students want to see intriguing events happening in the area, mutual support needs to be shown in order for them to reoccur. He hopes that through the Opera House, downtown shops can gain a stronger relationship with Alma students.
Breaking the Bubble will have to extend farther than just the downtown area. During orientation week, Meijer hosted a Back to College event with activities for Alma students and much more. Madison Amlotte (’20) attended the event. She said, “it brought an energy and excitement into Meijer that usually isn’t in that space.”
“Students got to shop for any items they might have forgotten or wanted for their rooms,” Amlotte added. The event aimed to market to students in an engaging way. Amlotte noted there were also games, dancing and activities, that resulted in prizes being awarded to students.
Regarding the success of breaking the Bubble, Destiny Herbers (’21) was unsure of the success. “In my experience, Meijer is very much a part of that Bubble,” said Herbers. She also said that Meijer is visited often by Alma students already. She suggested it would be more impactful to include more local businesses.