Time for a New Approach

Will Thomas

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Connect the Dots Conference hosted by New College and the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. I wrote about this conference about a month ago, but I really came away from it with a new perspective on how we can solve the problems on this campus.

On Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with and listen to David Mathews, former secretary of health, education, and welfare in the Ford Administration and a former president of the University. He currently serves as the president and CEO of The Kettering Foundation.

Over lunch and during his speech, he talked about how to create community and what it means to have a strong community. A beautiful analogy he used was that sometimes we have to leave the room in which we reside and reach out to the places where other people reside. It’s a pretty intuitive concept—in order to create strong relationships with other people, you have to make an effort to get to know them on their terms, not on your own. People will only be interested in joining a community if it’s one in which they feel welcomed, accepted, and find that it is a place where they can thrive.

While this solution may seem pretty intuitive, we seem to overlook it time after time on this campus. Our administration means well, but they have seemed to lead the way in the haphazard attempt to regain a sense of community here at UA. Through things like Pulse Check lunches every so often and talking to those who are perceived as community leaders, they are trying really hard to get back to some sense of community. Our Student Government Association has begun doing the same thing, reaching out to student groups with surveys, round-table meetings, and forums in an attempt to find the spirit of our campus community.

And while these efforts are a good attempt, most of it falls short of Mathews’ commission to truly reach out. For example: Pulse Check lunches, which are held in a small room off of the main Ferg dining room, require you to bring your own lunch, and whose marketing efforts have been mediocre, set up a separated and stuffy environment from the get-go.

Why not go out to the main dining room and talk to the people already gathered instead? Why not share one meal together? Why couldn’t it be a casual lunch with Mark and Judy, instead of Dr. Nelson and Dr. Bonner? Why not reach out instead of require that people to come to you?

Recently, the division of student affairs has tried to bring together leaders from across campus to try and solve the sense of divisiveness on this campus, but I have no faith in these conversations. Many of these “leaders” are stuck in their conceptions and misconceptions, and I’d challenge the administration to reach out to the common student instead. The student who has to work two jobs to pay for school, or the student who doesn’t have a 4.0 and doesn’t have time or energy to be involved in a plethora of extracurricular activities.

The same is true for the Student Government Association. In the recent elections, one of the unopposed candidates talked about her efforts to bring the student group Spectrum into the SGA office, let them become comfortable in the office, let them get to know her and vice versa. This is all wonderful, and I’m glad to hear she is proactive about bringing a diverse group of people into the SGA, but I’d challenge the candidate, Nicole Bohannon, to go out and participate in Spectrum’s activities, as well – to be comfortable in their space, as well as to help them feel comfortable in hers.

Mathews also used the analogy of ships passing in the night to describe how social movements commonly interact, going to similar places but not being able to see each other because of the darkness that surrounds us.

I’d challenge our campus to refuse to be ships passing in the night, and to shine bright lights to find each other. To fix this broken campus, it isn’t going to take just reaching out, it’s going to take stepping out.

Will Thomas is a senior majoring in economics and finance. His column runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays.