One of the most vital aspects of the University as an institution is its ability to make its students feel welcome. As described in this week’s story, “The Shoulders We Stand On,” fostering conditions in which students feel at home is not always easy. The constituent parts of the University environment can be reduced to two: the material conditions, such as the campus aesthetics and the quality of services and facilities, and the social dynamics, such as the student groups, the amount of multicultural dialogue and the shared sense of identity.
The material conditions of the University are flexible. They can be built, demolished and rebuilt in order to improve or amend the physical environment of the campus. This is a clear aim behind the ongoing Transformation of the Campus Landscape Initiative. The newly-reopened Kennedy Ellipse will undoubtedly sway the decisions of at least some prospective families, thus serving its role in campus beautification.
Social dynamics, however, are not so simply changed. Interpersonal relations are ever present among students, faculty, staff and administrators. The resultant social climate is complex. In part, the University as an institution is responsible, as it markets itself, admits students and subsequently provides a forum for these students to come together. The other side, however, belongs to the students themselves, who must develop a community and a general identity from which no group feels alienated. In a certain sense, this responsibility is a civic duty of the students, to engage and participate in student activities to construct the social fabric of the University.
Ultimately, the task of forming a comfortable, inclusive environment cannot be attributed to a single dimension of University life. It falls, instead, evenly and uniquely on each part of the unified whole. No matter how grandiose a structure is built on campus, it is only as successful as the immaterial social dynamics of the University community and the hopefully welcoming atmosphere that they foster.