We live in a pseudo-community; the kind of community money can buy. A community we’ve all “earned” a spot in based on individual performance, and a community from which we will have to depart after four years and $200,000. Whether we pay that cost ourselves, through our families, or through the so-called financial “aid,” we are here at an expense. Some things money can buy, and our experience at a university (although most of it very positive) boils down to this.
Now, there is no need to speculate as to what the details of a “real community” are, but at a fundamental level it should be easy to recognize that a community should not require an individualized, credential-based evaluation and a “buy-in” which very few can afford.
Alas, this is higher education, one step down from the Ivy League, teaching us how the “real world” works, but never letting us live there until they give us the boot 30 minutes after we graduate. Off-campus living is not something the school exactly encourages, supposedly because on-campus living helps build a strong academic community environment. This intention is a good one, but it is easy for one to notice where our college seems to be falling short with that $200,000 word, “community” (sometimes I fear it gets confused with “country club”).
On campus, we are separated according to our interests (whether athletic, academic or recreational) and backgrounds (sometimes based on gender or ethnicity), and we are allowed to healthfully construct our identity among these groups for the time being. However, along with this opportunity to fit in somewhere, comes the cost of the separation, since some individuals are always excluded. We are taught to tolerate everyone’s niche, but by emphasizing the tolerance of other groups we also condone the separation and exclusivity of our own. Diversity (in every sense of the word) under these circumstances becomes a hindrance, not only to community-building, but also to each person’s ability to properly view everyone else as a unique individual.
Where is the common ground? Apart from the fact that we’re all extremely “lucky” to be here, what is the venue for a truly communal social bonding? What does that end up teaching us about social relationships? Why has working to change this fallen so far behind sustainability, budget cuts and alcohol control on the priority list?
These are questions I struggled with when I arrived here as a student, and I continue with to struggle with them as I graduate. I do not regret any of my time as a student here, and I certainly had lots of fun. The way I relate to myself and to the rest of reality has no doubt improved, and St. Lawrence may certainly take some credit for that. However, my concern remains. I’m not sure if building a community within an institution like this is even possible, but I try to have hope. As far as I can tell, all the necessary ingredients for success are here but mostly unused. Until then, I will be hard-pressed to say that there is anything unifying about our university, and I am glad to be leaving SLU’s “student lifestyle.”
Yours, and in search of social security that doesn’t come in the form of a paycheck when I retire,
Wes Webb ‘11