OPINION | College students have obligation to shop small

Gabe Darley, Views Editor

One does not have to be an economist to know that, financially speaking, the U.S. has seen better days. As of December of last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national unemployment rate at 6.7%. According to Yelp internal studies, data shows that individual unemployment is not the least of national concerns, estimating that around 60% of businesses who shut their doors at the outset of the pandemic are closing for good. While it might not seem like a statistic relevant to Tulane University’s students, a closer inspection reveals the campus population’s potentially deeper role.

College students, on campus and off, are consumers. All it takes is a quick trip to the mailroom line during a midday passing period to see that Tulane’s undergraduates live in a constant flow of material accumulation: clothes, shoes, Amazon Fresh snack packs. It never ends. Off-campus students may play an even larger consumer role, or at least one with more shopping choices made. As most off-campus students live without a university-sponsored meal plan they must also tack on groceries to that list. 

How much do these purchases mean in the context of our shared community? The New Orleans population consists of around 390,000 permanent residents, with the Uptown area sitting at a modest 6,600. Upon comparing this to Tulane’s undergraduate count of 8,900, it is easy to see that students do have power in numbers, at least in our neighborhood.

The implications of this relative to the dire state of small business closures is clear. Tulane students should redirect their money to smaller New Orleans businesses.

Campaigns against online shopping in recent years traditionally focused on environmental concerns, but perhaps it is time to reframe the discussion. Consumerism is not an inherent evil. Rather, it is a tool that the Tulane community can adapt to help the local economy. If Tulane students are going to keep buying anyway — and they will — they might as well shop smart, and buy from the store around the corner.

The reality of having a university situated within a metropolitan area is that the students living there are constantly extracting from the city. We take a lot: photos, public spaces, experiences. Whether the city has granted us this privilege or not, Tulane students indulge in these withdrawals daily. While the university does offer programs to mitigate students’ exploitation of New Orleans, including public service involvement, specialized committees and some critical theory on our presence here woven into coursework, it will always be this way. Despite Tulane’s best efforts, students are guests of the city who arrived uninvited by the general population. Maybe, it is time we give back. 

For viable alternatives to your next Amazon purchase, consider looking into the StayLocal Business Directory for New Orleans businesses to support.