Creating community: throw money at it

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

Last weekend, as part of Case Western Reserve University’s mock trial team, I had the opportunity to compete against other schools at Eastern Michigan University. In addition to competition, being around other college students provides the valuable opportunity to share experiences, establish contacts and, dare I say, make friends with students from across the country.

But even as I say this, I have a caveat. Out of the 20 or so members of the CWRU team that attended the tournament, I can count on one hand the number that conversed with other schools outside the moments where we were awkwardly alone in a room.

I don’t mean to fault any of my teammates here. I just believe that we come from a culture that undervalues the notion of human interaction beyond what is necessary. That’s a CWRU thing. And it’s wrong. But most importantly, it’s our own failure.

Long gone are the days (were there ever any?) of students sitting on the grass, atop Merging or in a common room to discuss life. Not class. Not that professor you all fear. Not the research competition this weekend. Just life. The little things.

At CWRU, too often I hear students define themselves, their roommates or friends as quiet, closeted nerds, uninterested or un-enamored, by the myriad of excitement that surrounds them, even when it looks like there is nothing to do.

Earlier this year in a very contentious piece, I wrote that I sleep little, due to a too-packed schedule, that is created in part due to classes, extracurriculars, practice and my perhaps foolish attempt to keep a social life. Critics of that piece argued that I put myself through the pain, that I cause my own grief. And with those critics, I don’t disagree. In fact, I admit that a lot of my problems would be solved if I stopped doing things. Isn’t that the case with anyone?

I want to argue that as students at CWRU, we lose out on the experiences that other universities offer. I’m not referring to the all night “real” parties, easy work and job prospects, though some of those would be nice. I am referring to the camaraderie, the community and the togetherness that friends at other schools have told me about. A sense of oneness that we don’t have. There should be a community of like-minded individuals, equivalently involved and equivalently intrigued, to enjoy and foster. By comparison, at CWRU, one is more likely to find a student either involved in everything or nothing, rather than a healthful balance in all of our lives.

And that’s why I feel the need to converse. Why, if I cannot experience a community here, can I not have one on a wider scale? This is why I get to know the people I compete against. While there is an immediate connection and easy information to exchange, I also know that they bring a background entirely different than my own. I do this not to get sympathy for the CWRU kids, but to see how things work for everyone else. Whether I meet a graduating senior at Fordham, a junior at EMU or a jaded freshman from Miami University, each and every student will have an experience valuable to my learning, and insight into the issues and problems we face here.

And what a time it is to talk.

Our university faces immense pressure, change and difficulty. Construction is nearing completion on the Tinkham Veale Center, or more accurately described by one professor as a “monument to self-absorption,” a building that, no matter your thoughts, will permanently change the way students move about campus. The university is compiling a new strategic plan that will guide the university’s actions for years to come. What happens if that is messed up? Buildings on campus continue to grow old, fall apart and remain in disrepair while campus authorities turn the other cheek. In people, we fail to attract bright minds as students or professors, for permanence or even a visit. And those we do have, have their unique flaws. See the lawsuit filed against the new law school dean for more on that one.

To many, CWRU is still “that school.”

This semester I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a number of professors on this subject. And frankly, their opinions vary little from my own. Professors, independent of department, feel they are mismanaged, ignored and that the university remains stagnant while all the schools around us soar to new heights. They all have differing approaches to managing this problem, ranging from throwing money at it, to throwing more money at it, but they all believe in one thing—the idea that CWRU will always be “that school.” Any attempts at fixing that image, including intervention with the freshmen, SAGES and throwing even more money at it never has solved the problem.

But I refuse to remain pessimistic. I think the university can grow. We can foster the kind of community and intellectual atmosphere we so desperately need. But before we can implement it ourselves, we have to see what everyone else does. Reach out, talk to friends and reconnect with the guys from high school. Their experience is not your own and there is plenty to be learned from other people. Maybe, through the fostering of these relationships we can build a sort of community at this school, beyond the stagnant non-involvement and interest we’ve seen thus far. Or think about it this way: It’s better than throwing more money at it.

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, planning on getting a master’s degree in political science before attending law school. He is the vice president of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and the treasurer of CWRU’s undergraduate mock trial team.