Sunday, November 1, 2009

Campus Climate: I need a thermometer

This week, I have a lot of questions about how to gauge a campus climate. OSU is now my school, but I don’t feel very connected to it. I feel connected to the CSSA program, and to my job, but I don’t have a lot of contact with students in general. I really have no idea what is going on with the undergraduates. I don’t spend a lot of time on campus. I don’t really have reason to.

This week I specifically spent some time on campus, both in the library and in a coffee shop, Java II. I was surprised to find how loud the library was on a Sunday afternoon. I went with a two hour window of time, hoping to get a lot of work done, but was seriously distracted by a group of exceedingly loud young men in the quiet section. I was surprised by this level of disrespect.

You can see a lot of different things in the library, people studying alone, in pairs, in small groups. But it occurs to me that anything I observe on campus is just a tiny window into someone’s life. Students are involved in a huge number of things, and observing them in one activity sheds no light into the rest of their lives. I see students working out at Dixon, but what else are they doing? What clubs are they in? What classes are they taking? I have no idea.

So this leads me to the issue of balance. How do we know what kind of balance students have in their lives, when we don’t know what they are doing? Even the biology TA’s I work with, I only see a tiny portion. I spend an hour with them once a week, and know what issues they are facing with their labs, but what do I really know?

Something I was discussing this week with my mentor in the CSSA program is this issue of accountability. Student affairs as a profession is pushing students to live balanced lives, with a healthy level of all activities. Yet we are student affairs professionals are not always setting a good example. As grad students, especially, we are expected to do a lot. Part time or full time jobs, part time or full time classes, and we are still expected to live “balanced” lives. I’m not entirely sure how to do this, and in that case how do we encourage students do the same?

I think that I need to continue to purposefully spend more time on campus to observe, but that creates an imbalance in my own life. I still think that no matter how much observing I do, I will only be seeing a small part of student experience. I’m really not sure how to see more than a small sliver of the whole. I do have a game plan. I will start reading the Barometer, going to events, and have my powers of observation turned on whenever I am on campus. But will this be enough? It will have to be a good start,I guess, but it won't solve the whole problem of me feeling disconnected from the pulse of OSU.

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