Private lives in public spaces

The changing landscape of campus culture

You’re on your morning commute to class. You want nothing more than to drown out your thoughts on social media before the beginning of another long and dreadful day. Just as you reach for your headphones, a complete stranger sits down beside you. There are plenty of other empty seats on the bus. They ask for the time and then proceed to chatter away at you.

You may even think to yourself: “are you kidding me?”

This is fair. That time in transit is sacred and our devices allow us to straddle two worlds – the real and the virtual. Daily news, familiar faces, memes – arguably we are more connected than ever before to both our friends and to strangers.

But what if that time we carefully set aside for “tuning out” has actually become the basis of what we do in a day, rather than a small slice of our time? What if this pattern begins to saturate our everyday real-world interactions, that are becoming ever less frequent? What if it has contributed to an overall attitude of apathy and disconnect as we go about our day?

For some, smartphones are a way of opening the door to what is happening on campus and our communities. For many of us, however, our mobile device has become a tool for further isolating ourselves, effectively preventing us from engaging with campus life.

As the photo editor at the Manitoban, being observant is central to the work I do. What I see is a faltering sense of solidarity and community on campus. Flipping through decades of the Manitoban archives, I get the impression that there was once a sense of greater engagement and energy within these walls.

Throughout my own university experience, myself and other event organizers have struggled to bring a crowd out to campus events and rallies, even when they are focused on issues that directly pertain to students.

For example, this past November, the advanced education administration act, which lifted a cap on tuition hikes and removed restrictions on course related fees, was passed without much attention paid – in spite of numerous student protests and rallies that were organized in opposition to the bill.

It’s no wonder the term “commuter campus” is used to describe the University of Manitoba, given that many students seem to ignore the multitude of extra-curriculars and other options for community engagement the university has to offer.

Of course, there are a number of factors contributing to this apparent lack of cohesive community on campus. For instance, the fact that many of us have to work longer hours to pay for tuition, housing, and the many costs of daily life might hinder our ability to productively throw ourselves into campus culture. Yet, as the advanced education administration act’s passing proves, that is also the very reason we need more on-campus activity.

With the UMSU elections around the corner, the time for rekindled engagement is now.

Look up, ask questions, share your ideas, engage in healthy debate. After all, is that not that what university is all about?