Posts Tagged community

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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A Love Hate Relationship

I have a love-hate relationship with Bloomington. I hate the heat and humidity of this quiet Midwestern town, but I love the vibrancy and spirit this city has. It’s the latter that keeps me happy. And it’s going to be a September to remember in this place I now call home.

It started Friday with a trip to the Live it Up Late Nite at the Indiana Memorial Union, where I got a wonderful character sketch by a local artist, free with a student ID. She managed to capture me perfectly, and I now have an awesome present for my parents, although the parental units will probably only get a copy. I like the original too much to give it away.

I wandered next door and watched Full Frontal Comedy, a group of IU students who do comedy sketches about life in the world and at IU. It’s the latter that is particularly impressive. Friday night in a discussion of Napster, the group managed to get several sacred IU cows ‘ including Myles Brand ‘ in compromising positions.

The group is Bloomington’s best and brightest star on the improv comedy circuit. Its willingness to take on hot potato issues makes members leading cutting-edge observers of the city and campus. They outdo all the columnists in The Herald-Times and the IDS, so go see them before you leave this campus.

During the weekend, I wandered downtown for another Bloomington event: the Fourth Street Festival, an annual arts festival held every Labor Day Weekend. This particular festival reminds me of how far I have to go in life.

My apartment is filled with the typical trashy furniture and bad poster art you would expect from a college student. But at the festival, I discovered real art that I want on my wall, starting cheap ($50 for a photograph) and soaring to the expensive (thousands of dollars).

But even at the cheap end, this art is beyond my budget. I’m at a stage in which $50 is better spent on my electric bill or trips to the grocery store. But it was free to look and free to enjoy. My favorite items were the huge, hanging glass ornaments, so huge that even if I could casually drop a few hundred dollars for one, I wouldn’t have a place to put it in my apartment.

What’s particularly impressive about all of this is that this is only the first weekend of September. There is more to come, with the best coming the last weekend of the month.

Saturday, we can enjoy the first IU football game of the season. IU will be host to North Carolina State. Women’s soccer will also compete in two games next weekend.

The last weekend of the month will bring us the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, arguably the best festival in Bloomington all year. This event is five days of musical performance by groups from around the world, capped on Friday and Saturday nights by live performances at seven stages around downtown. This is a great way to learn about bands from around the world, such as Wimme from Finland, Lila Downs from Mexico and Dhagha from India. This might not be the Backstreet Boys or Madonna, but you will appreciate the difference.

That brings me back to the beginning: my love-hate relationship with Bloomington. I hate the Midwestern heat and humidity. But the vibrant life that exists here makes this one awesome place to live. The trick is balancing the school books with the festivals, and that’s no easy feat.

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Communities grieve in tragedy’s wake

It’s been over a year since I arrived at IU. To say the least, it has been an interesting year: every place I’ve ever lived in has been dragged through the media muck and is now stained a slightly different color.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the days when Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten and left for dead just outside Laramie. Suddenly, and without any warning, a community I grew to love and appreciate over my six-year stay was splashed across the front page of the New York Times and the Indiana Daily Student, to name a few newspapers, when the story broke.

Having been a resident of Laramie, I read the media’s accounts of the town with a great deal of interest, even at times pausing to wonder if the reporters had visited the same town and state that I know and love so much.

They talked about this town, calling it homophobic, racist, and drunk, casting the image in such pall that I found it difficult to imagine that they were talking about the same one I lived in. It is one with a great university that has a great legacy, a warm homecoming parade Saturday morning, and a strong sense of community.

The attention on my adopted home hurt: I love Laramie and I love Wyoming. Ultimately I would love to return to the Cowboy state, a state whose residents, like those of Indiana, have a strong sense of being, who they are and the historical legacy of their state.

The second blow to my personal geography came last spring, when Denver was dragged through the muck: Columbine High School and the two gunmen. Suddenly while flipping past CNN I thought I recognized the two people sitting behind the anchor desk and on the air: people I had watched on the news while growing up. It was CNN rebroadcasting KCNC, the CBS station out of Denver.

This time, though, the media did not blame the city; instead they tried to search for an explanation. It did not matter in the end: Denver still came off looking like a “cow town,” a backward place that encouraged gun-slinging, much like the Old West.

In one sense, Colorado is very much unlike either Wyoming or Indiana. The residents have absolutely no sense of place, being or history. Nobody in Colorado cares because they all just moved in from somewhere else; usually California.

The last blow came on July 4 when Won-Joon Yoon was killed by Benjamin Smith in Bloomington. Ironically, it took me far longer to learn about this news story than to learn about the other two. It was not until I was on my way home from Bloomington’s parade that I had to detour around the three satellite news trucks that surrounded the Korean United Methodist Church on Third Street, along with the yellow police crime-scene ribbon that I had only seen on television before.

Since I actually live here right now, it is more difficult for me to know how Bloomington came across in the national media. From what I can tell, though, it has not hurt Bloomington’s national image significantly. Perhaps this was because Smith’s crime wave was exactly that: a crime wave. It ran across two states, killed two people and hurt a number of others. The real news in this case, as it turned out, was the murder of Ricky Byrdsong, Northwestern University’s former basketball coach, in Skokie, Ill.

Bloomington was left to grieve for Yoon.

The images that the media chooses to push upon the public can lead to powerful effects in the imagination and memories of the viewers and readers. Whether in Laramie, Denver or Bloomington, reporters who fly into town for 48 hours to write a story often miss the essence of the situation. The facts may be right, but the picture is left incomplete. At best it leaves an image that is only slightly distorted, at worst the foundation of the community is damaged, forcing an already hurt community to dig deeper to fix its emotional scars.

The soul searching starts at home, and Laramie is about to be dragged through the muck again as jury selection starts for Aaron McKinney, the second of the men accused of murdering Shepard, this week. When you read the news stories over the next month, pause to remember that the citizens of Laramie were not responsible: McKinney and his friend Russell Henderson are the culprits.

The citizens of Laramie, like the citizens of Denver and Bloomington, are not to blame for their community’s notoriety; they are, however, working on the healing of their community.

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Pick up your own trash

Last Friday, I became an angry man about campus. Amazingly, I was not angry with any of my midterm exams, the papers I have to write or the readings I have to read. Instead, I was angry with one of my fellow students, who had intentionally littered the IU campus. At the time of my trek across campus, the Arboretum was in its typically beautiful state amid the falling rain, marred by nothing. Green grass and trees starting to bud accented the conversation I was having with my friend. Looking around the Arboretum, I noticed one of my fellow students coming across campus.

I kept talking to my friend, giving no thought to the young man walking toward me. He had been drinking from one of those bright red Coca-Cola cups and decided he was finished. Instead of depositing the cup at the next available garbage can, he set it on top of one of those posts by the side of the walkway. Now the unsightly and unnatural bright red cup marred the view. I was annoyed enough that I actually stopped the young man and made him pick up his trash.

I also gave him a short lecture on the inappropriateness of his actions by pointing out that there were a lot of trash cans around the campus. He seemed unmoved and I suspect he threw it down on the ground once he was out of my sight. Why was I annoyed with him so much? Because this student made an active choice to litter the grounds of IU and mar an otherwise beautiful campus. In short, his actions were intentional, deliberate and destructive.

I admit that, a couple of times, I have littered around Bloomington. The most recent case was when I reached into my mailbox and took out a stack of fliers. One of them got out of my hands just as a gust of wind swept by. The flier blew down the street and I chased after it but lost the race. It was neither intentional nor deliberate. It was destructive.

I did penance for my accidental littering by being extra conscious for the week after the accident. I picked up litter at every opportunity. In fact, the very next day, I picked up two fliers at rest beneath my mailbox. Clearly I don’t like it when I unintentionally litter, but people who intentionally litter really make me mad. This guy had a choice facing him when he finished his soda. He could either take the otherwise empty container to a trash can or leave it for somebody else to pick up. He chose the latter and sullied the view of the arboretum.

I’d like to keep the IU campus and Bloomington as beautiful as possible. If we all start picking up some of the litter we see on the ground, as well as confronting the litterbugs around us when they litter, perhaps we can make the community a better place to live and work.

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New bus plan benefits all

It is rare for a group of students to put forward a proposal that actually has merit. The Universal Transportation Proposal is one of those gems. Everyone — students, faculty and staff — needs to support this proposal.

Here is the basic idea: Every student on campus will pay a fee of up to $35 fee per semester. In return, every student will be entitled to unlimited bus trips around town.

It’s not a new idea. I saw a variation of this proposal at work a few summers back when I took a class at the University of Colorado at Denver. Once I had my student ID, I had a bus pass. I used the bus a lot that summer. Not only did I save myself gas and parking money, I reduced my share of Denver’s infamous brown cloud.

The system was so simple and logical, I thought that a lot of other universities would have already worked with their local communities to expand bus service. Yet IU and the Bloomington community are just now getting around to this pollution stopper of an idea.

The situation in Bloomington seems a bit more bizarre than most other places because two different bus systems operate: the Campus Bus Service and Bloomington Transit. The Campus Bus Service offers students a bus pass when they register — at a cool $120 a semester. Unfortunately, it’s only good for the Campus Bus Service, thus limiting you to unlimited round trips out to the stadium, if you’re looking for entertainment.

Bloomington Transit, on the other hand, has been around since 1973 and is designed to serve the local community. If you only want to ride the BT system, it costs $82 a semester for the bus pass — but it’s good only on BT buses.

A third option does exist for those who want to ride both types of buses without having to think about it– you need to purchase both bus passes for only $202.

The new proposal will change the situation. For only $35 a semester, students will be able to ride both BT buses and campus buses — thus saving everyone, including the strict anti-car environmentalist, a whopping $167 a semester.

Many of you are already saying, “I’m not an environmentalist. People in Oregon have the right to be lumberjacks and to have good paying jobs.” You might be the same person who lives five blocks from campus but drives anyway.

You might also be one of those people who complain relentlessly about the lack of parking. This proposal should please you to no end because yahoos like me will stop hogging the parking spaces when we get out of bed late.

One of the key components to this mandatory fee is that it will help the bus systems purchase more buses, provide more frequent service, as well as service later into the evenings. These new features will mean that I’ll never have an excuse for tardiness. If I get out of bed too late to catch the bus I normally catch, I won’t have to wait an eternity to catch the next bus.

Faculty and staff will also be able to buy into the program. Imagine sitting next to your favorite prof the next time you ride the bus — the individualized attention you’ll receive is worth more than the $35 you paid for the entire semester. Of course, this plan will also help improve the status of our environment in the Bloomington community.

This is a win-win proposal for everybody at the University. It is also a major victory for our community. We need to remember that IU is not an island surrounded by Bloomington. IU is an integral part of the Bloomington community, and it is incumbent upon the University to help make the town better.

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