The following comes from the book Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg. He is explaining why he frequently visits local colleges and universities:

I go partly because I just enjoy engaging students, who tend to ask the most urgent and penetrating questions, but also because they represent the key to a transformation now underway in what it means to be a college town.

In the sentence above, I'd like to know what this means and how the structure is composed: "in what it means to be a college town".


The expression what it means is another way of saying the significance of or what it signifies.

So the author is talking about the significance of a town frequented by students attending a college.

S/he is saying that these students are the key factor in the changes that are occurring, not just in the town, but in its significance.

For example, apart from any new buildings and other infrastructure, the students may attract new businesses and companies wishing to invest in their skills - and thus change the character of the town.

For the record, I have changed your introduction to read they represent instead of the represent. And while you refer at first to a college town, you question contains the phrase a college team. I assume that this is a slip of the tongue.

  • Thank you Ronald Sole. I wonder if this is a question or not. But I think I should ask. How is the preposition IN used in the expression of "in what it means to be a college town".
    – Mankak
    Mar 10 '20 at 11:12
  • The preposition is used to link two parts of the sentence, the transformation now underway to what it means to be a college town. Mar 10 '20 at 13:46
  • Thank you Ronald Sole
    – Mankak
    Mar 10 '20 at 22:35

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