What exactly is the issue? (Elisa Green)
In the wake of the university’s campus renovations and expansion, we recognize the continued problem of community, especially on the residential campus side. We find issue in the way that the creation of community has been handled both as a spirit to be fostered and a physical space to inhabit. The spaces that we feel to be most underused are the campus center and the “safe space” (located in the CARE House). Imagine with me, the many times you have walked through the campus center only to find it empty on many occasions. Now also imagine with me the little lonely building of the CARE House that sit on 4th street before you make it to the apartments. It holds (for those of you that have not been there) rooms with boring white walls and minimal additions. Everything exudes a dingy, cold, and waste-land like feel to it. You walk through these spaces and ask yourself: this is where one builds community, this is suppose to be welcoming and inviting? It is in these spaces that we envision that campus community has so much potential to grow and become a thriving space of community.
The problem as we see it comes from two angles: that being our problem with the physical atmosphere of the spaces and the lack of continual active community creation happening within these spaces. So basically the physical space and the actual action/events of community. We believe that these things go hand and hand. The creation of community, such as the finding of commonalities and recognition but also value of diversity in all forms, requires not only the comfortable space(s) for expression but also events that bring out those avenues. We believe this is important because we have major problems of social divisions (i.e. greek and indy), inclusion, and diversity. This leads to feelings of isolation that damage the community that Transylvania University claims to have and foster. But it also causes ‘community’ to a only a word paid in lip-service and not action. And what we need is action.
It is in communal spaces, from the student perspective, that we engage with our fellow peers in a different way than on academic side of campus. It is where we feel most at home and build relations with our fellow residents in more intimate ways that should be a continuation of the liberal arts spirit. But how can residents make these meaningful connections if there is nothing drawing them to these communal spaces? We believe that there should be an emphasis on community outside of academics and especially outside of the isolation of individual dorm rooms. If our community space were more welcoming and students flocked to these spaces it would put the university into a better light and be a more authentic selling point for PR in drawing more students to the university. It would also, we imagine, help to promote higher retention rates as students are making more intimate connections that tie them to the university beyond simply academic value.
We also recognize the problem being not only with Administration and staff who determine the design of campus spaces but also amongst our fellow students in mobilizing to want to build community with others. But again going back to the earlier point, these two issues are linked in a combination of events and aesthetics of space that contribute to the overall atmosphere. That is why our goal is creating an atmosphere through events and spaces to encourage community.
What could help? (Tristan Reynolds)
If the problem at Transy is atomization and alienation, then the solution is the antithesis: community. So, to solve the problem, we will attempt to foster a sense of community, focused on the Campus Center. While we recognize that obviously, you cannot force the creation of a community, we do believe that you can create conditions in which a community is more likely to flourish. Our proposed solutions, we believe, will create those conditions.
We want to start with the physical space itself. Currently, the Campus Center looks quite grim, grey, and not exactly inviting. However, some simple redecorating, the moving of furniture and changing the general style of the space will, we believe, go a long way towards making it a friendlier place for student activities. (We will have to make some investigation into the literature on how interior design effects the mood of a space). We want also to make a particular note that any new additions to the Campus Center, ideally, should emphasize the diversity and inclusion message that we believe is vital to creating and sustaining a community. To borrow an idea from our classmate Megan Graft, our ideal world would include prominent displays and art celebrating significant figures in the social justice tradition of Transy (the first female professors, the first racially integrated class, and so on).
This is not, however, sufficient in and of itself. The difference between a space and a community is the presence of people. To that end, the second component of our solution would be a revival of the popular lecture/seminar/talk series ¨What Matters to Me and Why.¨ The series was consistently well-attended by a wide swath of campus, and was a notable forum for the discussion of the tough questions and the human issues that lay at the heart of community building. We believe that reviving the series, and placing it in the Campus Center, is a valuable first step towards regularly bringing a diverse set of students into a community space. We further believe that bringing them into the space under the umbrella of a shared and regular experience will itself engender a sense of community among Transy students.
Who are the Stakeholders? (Hunter Overstreet)
A community takes many people to foster, and therefore there are several positions on campus that are dedicated to producing this community for the students. The group most affected are the students. Regardless of housing location or organization affiliation, every student is involved in being a healthy part of a cohesive community or harmed when the engagement is weaker. We see different issues being perpetuated when a community is not as connected, such as divides existing between students (Greek/Indy), issues of inclusion, and individuals feeling isolated. We have had students voice concerns about the connectedness of community in many facets, and community engagement strengthening is one solution that we believe can alleviate these concerns.
There are several stakeholders already working on providing the opportunities that already exist for students. At the highest command is Dean Covert, who is dean of student life. He holds a stake in this situation because he’s in charge of the parts of administration like Residence Life, Counseling Center (I think?), the Campus Center, and campus engagement. These facets include Hannah Piechowski and Kevin Fisher, who are in charge of residence life. Ashley & Ashley are receptive to providing a more cultivating campus because it is part of their mission in the counseling center. Diane Fout is in charge of the campus center, so she is assuredly a stakeholder, as is Michelle Thompson, whose position on campus is Campus and Community engagement. All of these people serve as a primary resource who can address the concerns we have of community engagement/community strengthening.