Community and the AcademyJanuary 20, 2010
With classes, work, extracurricular activities, and attempts at having a “normal” social life, many students experience the university as a world of its own. They forget that their universities are part of a larger community.
Students may find themselves at odds with the (often small) towns they reside in. During my time at the University of Northern Colorado, located in Greeley, the tension between university students and members of the community could be felt in a very real way. Community members thought that students didn’t want to become involved in Greeley issues or, when they did become involved, that it was to build their résumés. Because most students spend only four or five years at their school and then move on, they have no real connection to the community. During my time as a section editor for the school paper, we often talked about the divide between the campus and the community, even though we could never offer any real solutions.
Professors, administrators, and campus groups can remedy this situation. At the University of Northern Colorado, professors created a course designed to allow students to implement a project within the Greeley community. This course is now offered regularly. Campus groups can work on weekly community service projects, which are a great way to meet members of the community, as well as to leave a positive impression on the locals. Finally, school newspapers could greatly benefit from covering local events instead of reporting solely on campus activities.
Students learn from community involvement by applying classroom theory to real-world situations. As a political science major, I involved myself with voter registration and party politics while working on my thesis on youth voting. This experience allowed me to view my research in a real setting, and my research allowed me to bring new ideas to the organization.
Student community involvement benefits students and the community. Even though it may seem like there is no time to become involved, students, administrators, and professors can make it work. Has your school created any innovative programs to bridge the gap between campus and the surrounding community? If you are an AAUW member, what has your branch done? What was the outcome?
Donnae Wahl is a member of the 2009–10 AAUW Student Advisory Council.