In geography, an oasis is a fertile area (often having a date palm grove) in a desert or semi-desert environment. Oases also provide habitats for animals and plants.
— Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Oxford, Mississippi, is a special place. Whether you’re a current or former resident or just an occasional visitor, you’ll find Oxford has a lot to offer in its small size.
The city, which serves as Lafayette County’s county seat, is a proverbial oasis in the midst of rural North Mississippi, providing a setting unmatched by its surrounding communities. The city was founded around 1837 on former Chickasaw land, and it was given the name “Oxford” with hopes of attracting the state’s university. It was a successful endeavor.
Now, the University of Mississippi, more commonly known as Ole Miss, sits in the confines of this community and participates in the preeminent collegiate athletics conference in America: the Southeastern Conference. According to census data, Oxford’s population in 2010 was 18,916. Estimates in 2019 place the population around 28,122, growth of almost 10,000 residents.
Oxford is booming, and it’s easy to see why. As a college town in North Mississippi, it has a culture scene that is, as previously stated, nearly impossible to find in other towns in the area. Throw a beautiful college campus and what has been described as the “Holy Grail of tailgating” in for good measure, and you have a perfect storm for a great city environment.
As an Ole Miss alumnus and current graduate student, I’ve heard many times over the years from permanent Oxford residents that the town is, for lack of a better word, a better place when students are off on break. With the spring semester beginning on Tuesday, I thought it would be a worthy endeavor to show why this is, in my extremely biased opinion, an erroneous assumption and point to the positive impacts that the student population has on Oxford, Miss. Again, I’m a student who recently completed his undergraduate work, so I have no shame in saying that this opinion is very one-sided, but I feel like my perspective is a good one nonetheless. I’ve outlined some of my points below in various headlines for your reading pleasure.
It’s simple economics: more people is better for business. Whether it be restaurants, bars or the local Kroger, the student population, when present in Oxford, is good for the town’s business. The Square is a happenin’ place, especially when students are in town, and the bar and music scene thrives with their presence. This leads me to my next point, which is...
Oxford was the home of the Nobel Prize-winning William Faulkner. There are constantly concerts on The Square at The Lyric, Proud Larry’s, Rooster’s, etc. when COVID-19 isn’t rearing its ugly head. Square Books is one of the coolest independently-owned bookstores in the world. Would any of this be here without the presence of the university and, by association, the students? I think not. What makes Oxford so attractive is that it is inherently and forever tied to Ole Miss, and that’s what makes the cultural impact of the town so strong. Young, educated minds permeate the community and make it possible for the town to be marinated and steeped in an obscene amount of entertainment. You love to see it.
Technically, athletics still take place over breaks when students are out of town, but there’s always a hole in our hearts when they do, at least in my experience. Take baseball season, for instance. Right field and its associated beer showers provide one of the coolest college baseball atmospheres in the country, and that isn’t existent without the presence of the students. What happens when Cael Baker hits a dinger to Sardis and there’s no beer thrown in the air in the outfield? We all get sad. Cael deserves the celebration.
Spring break is canceled this year due to COVID-19, and even though it’s smart to help limit the spread on campus, it comes much to the chagrin of yours truly. Still, at least right field will have students all the way through baseball season this year. Right? Like, are we closing the student section because of COVID too? I really don’t know the answer to that, but I hope not.
Finally, the shining light from the students’ faces
What would Oxford be without the aforementioned beer showers? Without chicken on a stick at 3 a.m.? Without falling down the stairs at Rooster’s? Without the ever-so-prominent “Go to hell, LSU!” during the national anthem? Boring, that’s what. Students love Oxford, and, those of you who live there who aren’t students, deep down, you know you love us too.
The presence of Ole Miss and its student body make Oxford tick, so the next time you’re enjoying a meal at Boure or a walk in the Grove with your family and you see a student, be sure to say to your kin, “Look, kids, there’s the lifeblood of the community! Without him/her, we wouldn’t be able to call this place home and have so many opportunities in this town. Let’s go thank the kind stranger for their tuition money.”