My two wishes for the UniversityBy Wesley Vaughn | 12/06/2011 8:03pm
I was recently asked what I would change about campus. My two choices both relate to creating a better sense of a UA community from the beginning of a student’s life at this university.
1. The design of new dorms must be changed, specifically with honors dorms. I will admit, as a high school junior visiting colleges, these dorms blew me away. When I would later visit schools such as Virginia and Duke, I couldn't help but compare their old, community-style dorms to our suites. Now I look back at these differing styles and see their lasting effects.
At Duke, dorms compete against one another in intramural sports and other events. This would never happen here, unfortunately, because our newer dorms don't foster community at all – even when RHA and resident advisors do a fabulous job.
Are community bathrooms icky? Is sharing a room with someone else uncomfortable? I would say so, particularly as a high school student who never had to before.
This setup breeds community, though. Everyone on a hallway meets each other eventually, which is a rarity in the new honors dorms. I must admit that my roommates and I didn't try particularly hard during the two years I lived on campus, but we felt safe and satisfied enough in our own suites that we didn't feel the need to meet anyone.
The biggest irony with these dorms, intended to build community, is that they don't even allow for an open-door policy. Students are told to lock their doors, and the doors themselves close automatically. This reinforces the feeling that each room is wholly separate from others, which allows students to vandalize and pull fire alarms without feeling that they are affecting any kind of community.
I think honors students are beginning to agree on this too. In my large honors class this semester, the professor asked if the underclassmen liked the design of honors dorms, and no one spoke up with any kind of support.
Obviously, you can't change the design easily, especially with a new honors dorm on the way. But I think the discussion must be had regarding the plans to replace Riverside, Lakeside and Ridgecrest.
I also think freshmen, at least, should not be able to choose their roommates. It's attractive to parents and high school students, but it hurts students who come to our university without any friends. From experience, I knew two of my roommates freshmen year and we were joined by a random student. We tried to include him in our activities, but it was always awkward for him, and the design of the suite allowed him to walk into his personal room, lock the door and not even see us most days.
If implemented, a preference survey could group students of similar social preferences to limit major annoyances.
The University could still sell this to visiting students by pitching how highly it values community.
Lastly, to move to my second choice, since students don't feel community within their dorms, they feel the need to find community outside of them. This leads to the high demand in joining organizations early and relying on them for most social interactions and networking.
2. The rush for students to join organizations as soon as possible never allows students to embrace the idea of being a UA student first. Freshmen can join a fraternity before they even take a class, become a member of a prestigious honors group before they even prove their worth, join a sorority before the first week of classes and join a student organization early in the semester.
This setup is by no means an oversight or sinister. Facilitating the involvement of students in groups on campus is a noble ambition and should be continued.
Like the setup of honors dorms, though, it has unintended negative consequences. Freshmen are essentially divided into social circles by the first week of class. Students have already begun pigeonholing other students by asking, what they are instead of who they are. By Week of Welcome and Get on Board Day, freshmen have immersed themselves in the glut of opportunities on campus; many are also overwhelmed.
This is natural on a large campus, but it doesn't have to be the initial mindset of students. I am of the belief that organizations such as fraternities, sororities and Fellows should move recruiting and inductions until the spring semester or sophomore year.
I completely understand the difficulties of convincing groups to wait. However, if most organizations would have to delay recruiting, it would provide an equal playing field.
This time would provide freshmen with more information about all these groups too, since they would no longer be blindsided by the onslaught of recruitment during the first few weeks of classes or completely miss out on opportunities.
By giving students time and the structure to network out of these naturally constructed social circles, students become more understanding of other students’ perspectives. Currently, it takes even highly involved students about three years to build enough connections to understand this university's intricacies.
These changes could hurt recruiting initially for the University and for organizations, but our campus cannot continue to follow the same path it has taken. For our campus to become more understanding, we need to make community our priority.
Wesley Vaughn is a senior majoring in public relations and political science.