A World All Its Own
Benefits of Community on a Smaller Campus
By Grayson Harris
Choosing the right college is no joke—but are you looking for the right qualities?
As a high school student, nothing creates choice paralysis quite like the ordeal of touring potential universities. Hundreds of universities with hundreds of programs, teams, and organizations, are all vying for your attention. A temptation arises to reduce the decision to a numbers game. How many varied activities does this college have to offer? How many different ways could I potentially spend my time here for four years? Colleges inundate future students with the largest array of clubs and classes they can muster; and as we have all learned through online shopping, more options means more satisfaction. Right?
As a junior college student at Union University, which has fewer than two thousand students, I want to encourage you not to give in to the temptation! The best way to pursue growth and enjoy your experience at college is to find a community that you can truly connect with—and that’s more likely to be a small community than a big one. Rather than looking for the widest array of options, I would challenge you to invest deeply in relationships on a small scale. Look for universities that, like mine, present you with groups of students and faculty that you feel an affinity with.
Here are two important ways that a smaller campus provides a unique environment for students to connect.
1. Faculty Investment
Everyone understands the value of focused attention, especially in education. In a purely academic sense, one-on-one interactions with instructors are made simpler by smaller class sizes. In class, more time can be spent on individual questions and discussion; out of it, the faculty can intentionally clear large portions of their schedules for students to drop in, ask questions, and receive guidance.
Yet even apart from this (which is already a major advantage), I have never seen the kind of relationship-building I see on Union’s campus on a daily basis. It truly feels as if every teacher has the autonomy and time to reach out and genuinely improve the lives of their students. Professors here can create and lead study groups, invite the class over for dinner, or get coffee on campus with a particular student. All of these moments feel impossible to find at a large university where classes can contain hundreds of students. A smaller environment can set both faculty and students up for success.
2. Shared Spaces
An influential anthropologist argues that what makes something “a place” is whether or not it fosters social ties between individuals.* Some areas should be considered “non-places,” namely the in-between locations: elevators, airports, roads. These are examples of locations that don’t encourage connection, because people are only moving through them to get somewhere else. No one is in them for its own sake. While this is by no means always harmful or even surprising, universities should feel like a real place. They should create distinctive bonds between students, and provide a place for people to meet friends, have great conversations, and make memories.
A smaller campus like Union’s has so much vibrant life packed into a small physical space—it feels like there is always something happening around every corner. There are only two small coffee shops, only a single small gym to work out in, and just one good biking path. You will run into the same people over and over again, and that in itself creates space for more connections and prompts a feeling of unity. What builds friendships better than shared experiences (even if those experiences are that the water fountains in one building are all lukewarm)? How will the students from the improv team meet engineering students if they never share the same hallway? Necessity, not convenience, is the mother of invention; and it is also a great foundation for lifelong friends to meet each other.
In Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, his description of the “Waiting Place” depicts an eerie locale where people are stuck in an entropic state, looking for change that never comes:
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
Whether you go to a large college or a smaller one, at any rate, don’t go to a school that feels like the Waiting Place: a big, empty nothingness that helps you “pass time” until something happens to you. Find a real place, where you are brushing shoulders with amazing people–even if the only reason that you’re bumping into each other is that you have a little bit less room.
*Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, by Marc Augé.
Grayson Harris is a junior in Communication Arts at Union University in Jackson, TN. He writes monthly for Stoa (a homeschoolers’ speech and debate organization) and tutors students in reading at Lindamood-Bell Learning Solutions, located in Nashville. He hopes his writing will encourage readers and clarify their minds for the momentous decisions of life.
If you enjoyed this piece, you may be interested in some of our other essays on schools and education, like this one from Travis Copeland on why we need the right educational anthropology, or this one from our editor at large on the position of the quadrivium in modern classical teaching. For a taste of something different, check out our series profiling the Author Bank, covering figures such as Julius Cæsar, Geoffrey Chaucer, James Madison, Louis Pasteur, and Zora Neale Hurston. And as always, thank you for reading the Journal. Happy Friday!
Published on 30th June, 2023.