Uniting the campus on all fronts

There has always been a subtle and quiet divide on the campuses of American universities between undergraduate and graduate students. Most of the time this divide is ignored and swept under the rug by all those involved in the discussion.

Undergraduates sweep this under the rug because they don’t understand what graduate students and graduate school are about. Graduate students ignore the issue because most of them do not feel that undergraduate students have much effect on their lives. Neither one of these approaches is correct.

What needs to occur is a breaking down of this undergraduate-graduate student barrier and the building of understanding. This is a difficult task: Every year there are new undergraduate students who spend the first two or three semesters of college figuring out how to navigate the campus, both in physical terms (where is the library?) and finesse terms (how do I register for classes and get the good professor?).

At the same time, there are graduate students who are so serious about studying that they refuse to take part in campus life — objecting whenever a loud party is within earshot.

I propose a two-part solution to this problem: focusing both on undergraduates and on graduate students. As a part of campus orientation, undergraduates should be given a bigger picture of what higher education is about and how it works: the administrative structure of campus and the relationship between schools and between different higher education institutions.

Incoming graduate students should receive a similar lecture and review of the higher education system — one that focuses on the role of undergraduates at the institution.

The goal of this program would be to help prevent the misunderstandings that can sometimes occur on campus as a result of ignorance and lack of caring. Take for instance the recent example of the forum held to discuss the accidental release of names and Social Security numbers by the bursar’s office.

This primarily affected graduate students, and a sprinkling of undergraduates. John Mersch, moderator of the Graduate Student Organization, led the forum, which brought University administrators together to talk to more than 300 affected students.

Mersch said the IU Student Association offered no assistance during the organization of the forum. While I will not say that the proposed courses on University structure would have driven IUSA to organize or assist in sponsoring the forum, an IUSA leadership educated about the role of graduate students on a college campus might have taken a stronger interest in an issue that was seemingly for graduate students only.

Naturally, this can work in reverse. So many graduate students are absorbed in their own studies they often forget there is a physical and social campus surrounding them. These graduate students need to take some time and understand there are issues affecting undergraduates that they might be able to assist in resolving.

This can be as simple as participating in undergraduate student organizations and events, or as complicated as helping undergraduates fight inane enforcement of alcohol policies.

The strength of attending IU as an undergraduate is the wealth of opportunities it offers. The Bloomington campus offers more artistic activities, athletic events and class choices than a smaller liberal arts college. For graduate students, the reasons for picking IU are the same: artistic activities, athletic events and class choices. This is one thing we all have in common. A little time to understand our roles in campus life will go a long way to making this a better and more understanding campus.

Universities draw their strength from the combination of undergraduates and graduate students working together with the faculty and staff. We can have institutions of higher education where there is no campus community, but the learning that goes on at those institutions is more sterile and less involving. There are places for other types of institutions, but if we’ve chosen to attend this University, we should all be involved in the campus community.

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