I am proud to say that I am a graduate of Youngstown State University. I thought about attending other universities but kind of felt (or was made to feel) I really wouldn’t fit in. Not that I couldn’t compete academically. It’s just where I came from in terms of class. (I write about this in “What’s Missing from the Diversity Discussion?”, a post that was responsible in a way for this series as an answer to the question at the end of the post.) I also realized that if I went to one of these schools, I would saddle myself or my parents with significant debt. Debt wasn’t looked at positively where I came from, so I decided I would go to Youngstown.
Youngstown State had become a public university five years before I enrolled (1967) and that state support among other things made education very accessible for many of us. Tuition (in 1972 dollars) was $180 a quarter. Because of a scholarship, and savings in high school and working through college, I was able to graduate without any student loans. That was so for many of my classmates. Today, that is almost impossible.
One of the things that made Youngstown State such an interesting place when we were students is that we were there because we wanted to be. Many of us were paying for our own education. Many of us knew that if we wanted a different life from our parents that this was our chance. And one of the things that I was grateful for was that there were a number of professors who knew that as well, and gave of themselves and taught. My love of history came out of a couple required courses in history taught by people who made it come alive, not as lists of dates to be memorized but as a story of underlying causes, of competition for political power, and more that not only helped me understand the past better, but the present as well. A course on Romantic Literature introduced me to an English professor who hosted Lenten discussions on C.S. Lewis at his church, and allowed me and my girlfriend (now my wife) to come.
Yes, I met my wife at Youngstown–actually on the second day of our freshman year. She grew up in Brownlee Woods and went to Cardinal Mooney High School. That happened for a number of us as well. She worked on the Jambar in the midst of the Watergate era when journalism was big. She even had a chance to hear Carl Bernstein, who gave a lecture during that period.
The big sport when we were at Youngstown was basketball. This was during the Dom Roselli years and I think he had winning seasons throughout our time there. Football was generally pathetic. The Penguins used to play at a high school stadium. Obviously, this was before the Jim Tressel days. The brightest spot at the time was that we had a quarterback by the name of Ron Jaworski, who went on to an NFL career with Philadelphia.
Youngstown was a university in transition when we were there. For much of our four years, it was a mud pit as land was cleared and excavated for several new buildings including an expanded student union, Kilcawley Center and the then new Maag Library. Today, it is a beautifully landscaped campus, that is kind of an oasis of beauty in a city struggling to remake itself. One of its distinctive programs is its Center for Working Class Studies, one of the first of its kind in the country.
Youngstown is a working class university. Its graduates will probably not occupy cabinet posts in any national administration. Those mostly come from the Ivy League, which may be part of the country’s problem. But many of us fulfilled the dreams our parents had for us of a better life working in engineering, computer science, public service, business. One of the real questions in the era of rising tuitions, and college aid programs that have not kept pace, is whether this kind of opportunity will continue to be accessible to young men and women from the working class in the future or lower socioeconomic classes in the future. Perhaps it is up to those of us who had these opportunities to advocate and work to make it so for the next generation. That, too, is a Youngstown value. We want our children to have the chance at a better life.