At Issue: Building Community
Creating a Community of Individuals
It’s safe to say that the typical SLC student—if there is such a thing—is disinclined to follow the herd. After all, people come here to delve deeply into the subjects that inspire them, and no two students pursue exactly the same path. This individualistic streak rubs off on campus social life, too. Historically, the nearest thing Sarah Lawrence has to a tradition is Midnight Breakfast. In the 1970s, graduating seniors even renounced commencement gowns.
But no student is an island, and a rich social life is an important part of the college experience. Lately, both students and administrators have focused on ways to strengthen community on campus.
Students have come up with some creative ways to warm things up. In the fall, a student group gave out free lollipops to anyone who agreed to smile at a stranger while walking through campus. More significantly, a group of student senators led by Seth Partner ’11 and Jacki Lacey ’10 are working to create new subcommittees of the senate to address what they see as the biggest opportunities for enhancing community: creating more spaces for students to gather outside of class, improving communication between administration and students, and enhancing special events programming.
College administrators are working along similar lines. The Office of Student Affairs revamped the Programming Board this year, creating the Sarah Lawrence Activities Council (SLAC) to promote social events on campus. The council is a volunteer, student-run group aiming to host events that appeal to a wide variety of interests, including game nights, film nights, comedy nights, and a biweekly open mic night. Josh Luce, director of student activities and adviser to SLAC, said that the council has been highly successful: “In the first two months of school, we put on 35 events. The attendance has been phenomenal, and people keep coming back.”
The College’s modest physical plant means that space is an issue for everyone on campus, but SLC is working to provide more spaces for students to come together. In January, the College started a strategic space study review, sending teams of students into every building on campus to update floor plans and evaluate the condition of the interiors. The study will help with both short- and long-term efforts to improve the physical environment on campus.
“Whenever we can afford the space, we try to make student lounges,” said Maureen Gallagher, director of facilities. In the fall, the College opened two new common areas in Hill House, where students can gather to watch TV, have meetings, or study together.
Outside, the College recently built three barbecue/grill areas for student use. The inspiration for the grills came from Amara Foster ’09. For her senior thesis, Foster studied the role of architecture and physical space on the campus community, and concluded that barbecue areas would be an inexpensive and easy way to create new places for students to gather. Gallagher says that the new grills have already seen a lot of use and that the minimal investment was well worth it.
Amanda Ota ’12, chair of the student senate, praised the support from the administration, while emphasizing that students are responsible for making individual efforts as well. “The community won’t come to you, but you can find a sense of community by going to the RA events in the residence halls, playing on a team, or joining a club,” she said. “We’re connected by our mutual passions; they might not all be for the same things, but we’re all passionate about something.”
Academics are a natural area of connectivity among people on campus, noted Frederick Strype, visual arts faculty and member of the Committee on Student Life. “We need to acknowledge and embrace the interdisciplinary nature of Sarah Lawrence students by providing ways to bond intellectually,” Strype said.
Strype also noted the inherent strengths of Sarah Lawrence students: “Although we’re a group of individual seekers, some of the hallmarks of our community are acceptance and inclusivity. I hope anyone who comes to our campus would feel a part of something. It’s just that we need to figure out what that ‘something’ is.”
Seth Partner has thought a lot about what that “something” might be. In addition to serving as a student senator, he runs cross country, works as a resident adviser, and co-manages the Teahaus. As a transfer student who has experienced campus life at other schools, he also identified passion as one of the strongest aspects of Sarah Lawrence’s community. “I’ve never seen a campus come together like we did on the night of the presidential election. We are not apathetic students, and I think the interest we have in organizing not only around our personal identities, but also around issues, speaks to that,” he said.
Defining the “something” that unites a community as diverse and individualistic as Sarah Lawrence’s isn’t easy to do. But communal spaces and lively social events will surely help students connect with each other—and have some fun—while they’re figuring it out. After all, if round-table class discussions are any indication, it’s not the answer itself but the process of asking the question that really counts.
Fun with Facebook
There’s nothing like the Internet to help people find their niche. Here’s a sampling of some of the more unconventional Sarah Lawrence facebook groups. (The official SLC facebook page is at slc.edu/facebook.)
SLC Little Kids Games (75 members): ostensibly dedicated to playing games like hide and seek, the most popular activity seems to be “zombie tag.”
Sarah Lawrence Foodies! (41 members): includes a top-ten list of books about food. (CLOSED)
Sarah Lawrence Gospel Choir (33 members): “Wait a second...a Gospel Choir?...at Sarah Lawrence? Fo' serious, my friends.”
Sarah Lawrence Dueling Club (34 members): activities include a lot of glove-throwing, staring contests, and water-gun fights.
SLC Dudes (73 members): “We aren't necessarily into the same things most dudes are (football, WWF, chicks), but we're still dudes.” And their “office” is the men’s locker room.
People Who Think Sarah Lawrence is a Lot Like Hogwarts (135 members) and Give it Up Sarah Lawrence. We Know You're Really Hogwarts. (86 members): Apparently the similarities between Hagrid’s hut and the Teahaus cannot be ignored.