As Urban enters the 2016-17 academic year, the school might be unrecognizable to a graduate from just a few years ago. New and changed sports teams, investment in STEM programs, a larger student body, a new building, dramatically higher tuition, and what many consider to be a completely new school culture and typical student are all things members of the Urban community have noticed changing around them in recent years. With all these rapid developments, it is important for us to take stock of where we stand and decide how we, as a community, either embrace or resist the changes happening around us.
Founded in 1966, Urban states its goals to be to “ignite a passion for learning” and “instill a consciousness of social justice, an ethic of citizenship and a commitment to service” in its student body. On the surface, Urban has changed a lot since then, gaining more students, faculty, and real estate. However, for most of its short history, Urban has remained largely culturally static and homogeneous. This is now changing right before our eyes, and the staff of The Legend believes that we should embrace the change with optimism while not losing sight of where we came from.
Urban has long been known for its commitment to social justice and the arts, as is evidenced by our strong service and visual/performing arts programs. The school culture has historically been integrated with this commitment, with the average Urban student being invested in many different types of activism and creative endeavors. While this is certainly still true for many Urban students, to us, Urban is starting to feel a lot more like other independent schools in the Bay Area such as Lick-Wilmerding or University. This can be attributed to several factors, the most obvious being the new building. Not to mention the fact that the entire Salkind Center is oriented around the gym, adding more symbolic weight to athletics at the school. Another factor is the school’s recent investment in more STEM programs. The new UrbanX lab, new classes like Industrial Design, and more faculty hires demonstrate the school’s newfound commitment to the sciences, elevating them in importance close to the arts. Furthermore, Urban’s tuition for this school year is up to $42,500, a stunningly high figure that, we would argue, erodes the school’s progressive persona. Considering that, it wouldn’t be a leap to conclude that the school is in the midst of a rebranding, as evidenced by the pricey redesign of the school’s logo. These dramatic shifts in the school’s dynamic have also changed the type of student Urban attracts, as well as made the school more selective with enrollment.
With all these changes, we feel that Urban is slowly losing its counter-culture reputation and cornering off more students who are interested in athletics or the sciences as well as artists and activists. This is changing Urban, culturally, to a much more diverse atmosphere intellectually, culturally, and philosophically. The staff of The Legend asserts that this is fundamentally a good change. We should embrace this shift and make the most of it, but that does not mean losing where we came from. At The Legend, we don’t believe Urban’s traditional values and changing culture are inherently in conflict, but rather quite compatible. Greater diversity, whether ideological, cultural, or intellectual, can do nothing but benefit us. Indeed, we are likely witnessing not a departure from our old values, but an affirmation of the Urban identity: the school is finally coming into its own.