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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Residential Life at Berkeley Leaves Much to be Desired

— Because of the visibility of the Collegiate Way website, from time to time I receive email from students who are in despair about the nature of campus life at their institution, and excited by the possibilities that residential colleges offer. This past month I received such an email from a student at the University of California at Berkeley. He wrote in part:

At a school as large as Berkeley many of my classmates and I are aware that there is something missing from what we expected from college. Maybe it was foolish of us to think that we could find some definite place for ourselves in the first semester on campus, but I think that it isn’t. There are so many I have met that, for the lack of a better comparison (perhaps an example of how deprived my experience is), want to live the life of Harry Potter in his House of Gryffindor, that I know if the ball were rolling the momentum for individual colleges on campus wouldn’t be stopped.

There is a feeling I have gotten while speaking with my floor mates and other acquaintances of discomfort with intellectual engagement. It is self awareness and the timidity of stepping upon other’s toes that pervades almost every beginning of real discourse that really limits our experience here…. So, here is the need for just that one component of collegiate life, an open and encouraged dialogue. I wish that the context was present to get us excited to be under the heritage of a shared history and identity and develop a sense of urgency and need for contribution to that history.

On the more immediate side of the issue, there is also a huge problem with sexual violence on our campus. The communities that the Collegiate system would create would help to mitigate that problem greatly by developing a community that would watch out for its own members. It would also offer alternatives to the party lifestyle many turn to for lack of rewarding social events…. A healthy and aesthetically pleasing environment, a lively and accepting community, heritage, tradition and the feeling that we are a living part of something much greater than ourselves are all wanted and needed to make our experience complete.

The student concluded by asking how he might go about promoting the residential college idea on a campus like his: a campus with 22,000 undergraduates. By my reckoning, that would be about 50 colleges. Turning around a large university is harder than turning around an aircraft carrier. But with the right leadership, and the conviction that there are many other students like this young man out there, I am as confident as he is that once such a turn begins it would be hard to stop. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of students in large universities across the United States and around the world, let us hope this is true.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021