Community and the Academy

January 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.

AAUWguest By:   |   January 20, 2010


  1. megankillian says:

    Great post. As a graduate student at Michigan Tech, I have become very involved with my local community. I attend town hall meetings, am a member of our city’s bike task force, and frequently attend local events. It has given me such a great link to my area and I have got to know so many people in my community. From local officials to community health leaders, I feel like I’m truly a part of something and not just in it to “fluff” my resume. I really enjoy it. This year, I am the race director of the first-ever half-iron distance triathlon in the region, and I’m doing it with the help of the amazing local folks from the community that I have met over the years.

    Although my university doesn’t have an AAUW branch, there are many student groups that reach out to the community. But, I’d love to see more. There seems to be a disconnect at times from undergrads to their environment, and that may be because they know that when they graduate, they will leave. Other than students that work off-campus, it is almost as if there are two different populations in the area sometimes. I’m not quite sure how to get the two populations to connect, but I’m interested in hearing what other schools/groups do.

  2. Marian says:

    Interesting perspective. It certainly was true that students were generally in their own community within a community when I went in college/university. We didn’t notice tension in the greater community. Sometimes community folks seem happy if the students don’t bother them. It is certainly better to create a more positive climate. Many high schools now offer service opportunities, so options are also important.

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