Feb 222009
 
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

While you are on campus, are you building walls or tearing them down?

Teaching in the Academic Village for the past year and a half, I cannot be shielded from construction on the southwest end of campus. There is a third building going up as I write. I walk past it to and from AV-B where I teach.

This idea of building gets me thinking about the philosophical and physical history of the building of higher education through the ages — about the beauty of the buildings on college campuses around the world and in the U.S. and about the ugliness of those who have been denied access over these walls through the ages.

Except for last half of the twentieth century in U.S. history, looking specifically at the time of the founding of the first institution of higher education in Bologna Italy in 1088 (no, that is not a typo), there has been a history of rich, well-connected men finding their place in the world.

In the U.S., higher education has had a slow and sometimes brutal history of everyone else trying to gain entrance and fair treatment in the classroom.

The Marxist in me makes me think about the men (I have yet to see a woman on the job site) who are building these walls, their level of education and how they are selling their labor to house those who will become educated within these walls starting in the fall.

More important than the physical plant is the way that we build walls around the acceptance of new ideas or people that we do not know. I wonder if you, as a student, are trying to walk beside these people with new ideas, or are you indeed securing yourself within your own mortar to keep these people and ideas out?

Before the Academic Village was built, Summit Hall was built in 2004. Before that, the last residence halls to be built were Durwood and Westfall in 1968 and 1969. This was necessary to accommodate the new mass influx of the middle class to campus, as was reflected in the history of higher education as a whole.

In those 30 years, much has happened as far as the demographics of the people who study within theses hallowed walls.

Women and minorities of all cultures have gained acceptance: The GLBT student body is no longer an invisible entity, and students with disabilities have gained rights due to federal legislation.

Since 1984, women have been the majority gender on college campuses all across the U.S. Things are indeed changing.

The question I have now for you is: What legacy are we building now that others will judge in the next 30 years after “Building D” is built?

Although I think it is more important to be judged on the open-door philosophy and acceptance of students of campus than how aesthetically pleasing a place looks, it is certainly nice to have some up-to-date buildings on campus. I know I am happier in an office with windows to look out on green grass than working in the “Bat Cave” in Newsom, which was a windowless, stuffy dead end to the world.

That being said, I would like to thank the people whose hard work is building the brick walls of Building D today so that future students have the opportunity to come to campus and learn the importance of acceptance of others, just as higher education as an institution has opened the doors to students from different walks of life.

Our future is dependent on the nurturing of minds, souls and skills to build a better future.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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