Mutual respect – the foundation of a successful community

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

Last week I wrote in this space about a meeting with Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder. After reading my editorial in print and recalling our discussion, I began thinking more about the importance of community to students and administration.

Essentially, my contention is that through a strong sense of community—where community is synonymous with dialogue, diversity, camaraderie, collegiality and solidarity—personal growth develops exponentially quicker than in a fragmented and hyper-individualistic environment.

There is importance to individualism insofar as motivation is important to academic success. But what if the environment at CWRU was one where everyone encouraged each other to sustain those things? What if we prided ourselves on honor and civility? What if we could be totally open with one another about what we’re feeling and thinking and our discussions reflected earnest interest in one another?

To illustrate my point, I provide the following anecdote. I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since before spring break. After customary introductory formalities, she asked me, “How was spring break?” Admittedly, I was out of town in a fun place, but I returned to Cleveland knowing I was to bury my aunt who had passed away. So I replied, “Most of it was great, but it ended badly.” She just looked at me with an unsettled expression and essentially walked away with a brief, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

When I spoke to Snyder she described a place where every conversation was like the one I had with that young lady. She made it clear that it is up to students to create their community. While I agree that community building is a top to bottom model, I disagree that the responsibility should fall solely on the students’ shoulders.

Earlier this month, there was talk that Diversity Weekend would be cancelled this year. Many underrepresented students felt upset when they learned of the administration’s tentative plan, explaining that many of them had come to CWRU based on how included they felt by the events of that weekend. Tell me, how can students create a diversity program like Diversity Weekend on their own?

I mentioned all of this to Snyder and we basically agreed to speak about diversity in the future, but this is what I’m talking about. If students don’t feel like they belong here in the first place and our administration doesn’t take steps to foster a sense of belonging, then students will be discouraged and their motivation for a better community will be deemed futile.

Given that Undergraduate Student Government elections are going on right now, I spoke with outgoing USG President Dan Gallo before the general body meeting Tuesday evening. “Maybe the solution is awareness, a proliferation of knowledge about organizations, programs and options available to students. Personalities are inherently pointed in one direction. You don’t wake up one day and say, ‘I love CWRU.’ You wake up one day and want to feel part of something bigger.”

He reminded me that there are a large number of USG officially recognized student organizations and pointed out that the freshman caucus explained that first years are largely unaware of campus organizations and events. Let’s change that.

There are 41 academic, 20 athletic, five competitive, 24 cultural, one governing, 27 performance, 29 philanthropy, five political, 18 religious and 58 special interest groups for a total of 228 USG recognized organizations on campus. Surely there’s something there for everyone to get involved with.

Yet the reality that students need to feel supported by the administration remains a factor. Gallo highlighted this need specifically with Snyder. Gallo said, “USG has been trying to get her to show her support for students by getting her to events, but she doesn’t know about them. With all the events that happen on campus, she only receives a handful of invitations every year and she’d love to attend.”

And I don’t mean to single out Snyder. The belief that administrators are off-limits to students is ludicrous. Without students, administrators don’t have a job and the university ceases to be. Their job is to maintain the university, but without CWRU students there is no CWRU. In a direct way, they serve us. Whether they believe this or not, what one thinks and what reality actually is are two different things.

“I want to walk down the Quad and not see one student with their head down. A significant portion of our campus community [is] like this, but at the same time there is a significant portion who deeply care about CWRU,” Gallo said. “At the same time, cooperation from administration is crucial, and they acknowledge that.”

Maybe, with a little resourcefulness from students and more communication with administrators, we can change the attitude of CWRU. Maybe then kindness, mutual respect and encouragement will run rampant across our campus. Maybe then all students will feel like they belong.

Jacob Martin is the senior opinion columnist. Like USG President Dan Gallo, he too wants to walk down the Quad and not see students with their heads down.